Christianity,  Culture

Fading Glory and Permanent Things

I just finished watching a documentary about a band that was popular when I was a kid. If I told you who the group was, you would recognize them immediately. But I suppose naming them is pointless. It’s the same story after all. A love for music, a quest for fame and glory, hedonistic indulgence along the way, unhappiness and depression in spite of fame and fortune. The lead singer has been dead for several years now.

As the film finished, this is the word that stirred in my heart:

“All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field
The grass withers, the flower fades,
When the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever.”

Isaiah 40:6-8

All human glory is like that fading flower. Yes, beautiful in its own time and way, but also very fleeting. Very transient. Soon to be replaced by another. And then another. And then another. And all the replacements—no matter how beautiful—are just as fleeting. And just as forgotten.

Our lives go by us in a flash. Our time is so short. And yet, still our hearts long for a fading glory—a glory that will be forgotten and unknown infinitely longer than it was known or acknowledged by anyone. 

“No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.”

Ecclesiastes 1:11

It is a rare thing in the world to be remembered. Out of the ocean of humanity, only a precious few have their names recorded in history books. Most of us will live and die and be forgotten within a generation or two. The pop stars and movie stars of our time will be just as forgotten and unremembered as the rest of us. How many film stars can you name from a hundred years ago?

This is the vanity that the Preacher laments in Ecclesiastes, but it is a truth that is absolutely crucial for us to grasp if we wish to understand our place in the order of things. God did not make us for vanity. He made us for an unfading glory that cannot be taken away (1 Peter 1:4). 

The great folly of our race consists in our persistent casting aside of the permanent things for the transient things. The constant quest for the food that spoils instead of the food that endures to eternal life (John 6:27). The hoarding of moth-eaten, corruptible treasures rather than storing up heavenly ones (Matthew 6:19-20). The tragedy of our lives is that we spend so much time fixated on the fading glory rather than pursuing the unfading one. 

There really is nothing new under the sun. What has been done has been done before and will be done again. This is the way of things in this fallen world of sinners. Apart from grace, we don’t learn. We walk in the sins of our ancestors. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way. It doesn’t have to be that way at all. 

“Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters;
And you who have no money come, buy and eat.
Come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without cost.
Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourself in abundance.
Incline your ear and come to Me.
Listen, that you may live;
And I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
According to the faithful mercies shown to David.”

Isaiah 55:1-3

The “faithful mercies shown to David” come to full flower in person of Christ, who was crucified and raised to break the vanities of this age. We don’t have to die and be forgotten forever. We can live and be known by God forever because of Christ and what he has done for us. Our lives aren’t fleeting and fading glory, but rather are working toward an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17). That is the good news, and it’s ultimately why our fleeting lives don’t have to leave us in despair. It’s also why those who have given their lives over to the fading glories have lost more than they will ever know.