Contemplations on Death, Part I

"Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity."
~Ecclesiastes 1:2
The room was cold and still. On one side of the room was a casket, and in the casket lay a pale form, its familiar face expressionless with seeming-sleep. Who has said that a dead face appears peaceful - or even beautiful? They were wrong. The face of death is awful; pale and cold and spine-chilling so quickly become overused adjectives.

If I hadn't known the dead before - if I had never seen him alive and happy, with his eyes smiling at me - everything would have been easy. But I had. And often after this scene, I lay in bed wondering what the point of life was if it all ended in death.

I wasn't the only one who had wondered this, and I'm not the only one to write about it. Well-known authors such as Jack London often wrote about the futility of life. There was one author in particular that stood out to me - an ancient fellow from before the time of Christ. He wrote a book called Ecclesiastes.

"What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises....
All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun."
~Ecclesiastes 1:3-5, 8-9
This is only a part of chapter one. The book runs on in this manner for several chapters. If I had felt depressed before, I should surely feel depressed now, having read this. But there was a section of the book that suddenly jumped out at me, being so entirely different from the tone and mood of the rest of the book:

"What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man." ~Ecclesiastes 3:9-13 [emphasis mine]

If this is the answer, it seems to be an incomplete answer. It tells us what we should do, but not why we can do it. For instance, why should we be joyful and do good if we know that the inevitability of death hangs over us? And why should we take pleasure in our toil if we know that in the end our works are nothing? The paragraph concludes that "this is God's gift to man." But what does that mean?

Unfortunately this post is rather long already, and I have homework to do, so I'll have to leave you pondering these questions until I can come back and write part 2. Perhaps you already know the answers; it is always good to remind yourself of them. :)