When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: Fear God and keep His commandments, because this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, along with every hidden thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)
Doubtless it is difficult to imagine a more fitting final thought to end the book of Ecclesiastes than is contained in these simple words. The inspired author has taken the subject of human life and shaken it to see what unshakeable truths will remain. The issues such as the purpose of life, its understanding, its inequities, its thrills, its defeats, and man’s place in the universe — these and more have remained elusive. Why is life given to us? No man can say other than that it is given to us to live.
In the optimism and confidence of youth we begin our lives, and in the end we feel as Elijah did, “I am no better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4). Oh, it is good to see your children living responsibly, dealing with their challenges effectively, blessings others, etc. But the understanding of life, let alone its mastery — as if we could ever come close to this — remains as elusive as ever.
The whole duty of man
The inspired author says that it is not our duty to understand life, but to trust God and to obey God — to fear Him and keep His commandments. The Pharisees would later make much of this, that we were not to understand the meaning of the law, just do it. They would put their emphasis almost entirely on keeping the commandments and not on fearing God or on faith in Him. But the scripture emphasized both: fear Him and obey Him.
The fear of God is simple faith in Him. It is not to fear Him as an unreliable divinity who is undependable. Rather it is to recognize Him as the One to whom we must give an account. It also means that when He says He loves us that we are afraid not to believe Him! God is unpredictable in His actions, but never in His motives. His heart is pure because His love and His holiness are pure.
The limits of our understandings
There are many things we can understand about God and about life, but we still are short-lived beings whose earthly existence passes quickly along a certain historical timeline. We are fleeting things on earth, and our eternal life that is promised is in the future. Though we may pass away in a time of peace and prosperity, the day after we die pestilence can sweep the land, a financial disaster may overcome the earth, wars may breakout, and the comfortable life we leave our loved ones with may be stripped away from them in minutes.
The certainty of judgment
But we can be certain that after this life we must stand before God and give an account of how we used our opportunities. “It is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). This calls us to be serious and to be obedient. We are only accountable to obey what we understand the will of God to be. We must sort through the misunderstandings and well-intentioned legalism that misguides us. We must also be careful not to go beyond what is written (1 Cor. 4:6), as well as not to ignore what is commanded.
The beauty of the Lord
And along this path, we should enjoy God. To know Him is eternal life. To spend time with Him on earth is to prepare for eternity. That He cares that we fulfill our duty, that we know Him, means that He values us, and has a purpose for us, a reason for our existence. Oh, look up at Him and enjoy Him. For this is as much of our duty as anything else. He calls us to see His beauty, the wonder of a new day, the thrill of seeing Him at work around us, the goodness that is in the comfort of His love in our hearts. These realizations of Him revealing Himself to us are the life-altering moments He has lovingly entrusted to us.