I said before that Western society is the most sex-obsessed culture since the Roman times, and I have a theory about that. I think the problem goes deeper than most people realize. Having studied other cultures and some world history, I can safely say that our society is absolutely unique in the way it caters to the young over the old. All our advertisements, all our popular culture, all of our media, and in fact just about all of our entertainment are all geared towards young people. This is the exact opposite of the way that most of humanity has operated. The terms “new,” “young,” “innovative,” “progress,” and similar terms are positive here and now, but they'd be greeted with suspicion (at best) at any other time and any other place. The elderly were and are respected, and traditions are/were highly valued. This isn’t necessarily a totally bad or good thing; it’s just the way things are.
So now we’re called to listen to the final words of an old man as he speaks to the young. He’s made some pretty bad errors, and he can’t claim to have followed God’s way all the time. He tried his own way for several years, and it brought him nothing but misery in the end. In fact, he hasn’t finished paying for it yet: The effects of his disobedience would be felt immediately in the next generation and for all the years to come. In a judgment from the Lord, right after his passing, his son Rehoboam lost half the kingdom of Israel. And it never was reunited, so the nation never fully recovered from what Solomon did.
So what’s his last bit of advice to us? Remember your Creator while you’re still young. This isn’t to say you need to adopt a dour attitude and abandon fun. It does mean that in all your new experiences, you need to keep your Creator in the center of it all. Make the commitment to have him as your top priority today instead of in the future.
What’s with the rest of the passage? Remember that this is poetry. He’s using imagery to present a picture of a man whose body is slowly breaking down due to getting older. He’s presenting an allegory of aging, probably drawing from his own personal experience:
• The passing of another year (marked by birthdays) holds no joy anymore.
• Everything is growing darker, possibly both literally and metaphorically.
• His limbs are trembling.
• He’s having to stoop.
• His “grinders” are few (he’s losing his teeth).
• His “windows” (eyes) are growing dim.
• The “doors” are becoming more closed (possibly referring to being more close-minded to new ideas).
• The “sound of grinding fades” (his hearing is going).
• He can’t sleep through the night anymore.
• He’s afraid of falling and of other “dangers” he might encounter.
• The “almond tree blossoms” (his hair is turning white).
• He used to be like a “grasshopper” who leaped around, but now he’s stiff with old age.
• “Desire is no longer stirred” (I think you can guess this one)
Remember your Creator before the fragility of life is no longer a hypothetical idea but a present reality. And then the spirit returns to the God who gave it. Then you face him, who will look at everything you’ve ever done. He ends today’s passage with a final cry of frustration bordering on despair: “Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” This is the cry of a man who didn’t do what he's enjoining us to do. He didn’t remember his Creator when he was young, and now he really regrets it. As life is coming to a close and his body is slowly deteriorating, he’s mourning what might have been.
But the point of this is not to despair. The point of this is to make good use of the time God’s given you. What matters is not yesterday or tomorrow, but today. You can’t do anything about yesterday, and tomorrow is out of your reach. The only time to decide to do things his way is today.
Lord Jesus, however much time I have left, I want to remember you. I want to please you, to honor you, and to make a difference in this world for you. By your grace, I can do it.