Alive vs. Living
IT’S ONE OF MY FAVORITE dramatic scenes of all time. A ragged band of young men wait to hear what the nobles will have them do: negotiate and go home or charge. Then the ground beneath them begins to shake as a seemingly infinite number of English soldiers, infantry, and cavalry, make their way to the battlefield. The Scotsmen, no longer caring what their nobles will decide, begin to leave. But then William Wallace rides on the scene.
“I am William Wallace. And I see a whole army of Scotsmen here to fight as free men. And free men you are. What would you do without freedom? Would you fight?” The soldiers murmur negative reactions.
Then one responds, “No, we will run and we will live.”
Wallace answers, “Aye, fight and you may die. Run and you’ll live—at least a while. But when you lie dying in your beds many years from now, will you trade every day from that day to this for one chance, just one chance to face your enemies and tell them that they may take our lives, but they will never take our freedom!”
The lines could have come right out of Ecclesiastes, chapter nine in particular, for there we learn that all men share a common destiny—death (9:2). All right, so you probably knew about death before you ever read Ecclesiastes. But, the Teacher, as he is called in the first verse of the book, seems to have thought about it a lot more than most do.
He knows we’re all going to die, and he’s upset. It’s simply not fair. All people die—the righteous, the wicked, the good, the bad, the clean, the unclean, those who offer sacrifices, those who do not, the good man, the sinner, those who take oaths, those who are afraid to take oaths (v. 2). Shouldn’t the good people get something better? There’s nothing worse than being dead. Even a lion, the mighty king of the jungle, if he is dead is worthless. Far better off is a mangy filth-eating dog, as long as he’s alive (v. 4).
But what’s really so bad about being dead? The Teacher answers that in verses 5 and 6:
For the living know that they will die,
but the dead know nothing;
they have no further reward,
and even the memory of them is forgotten.
Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished;
never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun.
While these passages seem to deny life after death, we know from the rest of Scripture that there is indeed life beyond the grave. What we have here is an earthly perspective. Our earthly rewards will end with death. We can no longer participate in the lives of people who still live.
With these words the Teacher gives us the same challenge William Wallace gave the would-be deserters: “Every man dies; not every man really lives…. When you lay dying in your beds many years from now will you trade every day from that day to this for one chance.” To share Christ with a co-worker? To apologize to your brother? To hug your kids? To smell the flowers? To write a book? To learn a language? To change the world? Once we die, there are no more chances. Empowered by the strength of Jesus Christ, let’s commit to live, not just be alive.