Meditations in Meaning & Values 5: Fame
Eccles 1:11 There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow.
I like biographies and autobiographies. I look on my bookshelves and see Nelson Mandela’s face and a bit further on Margaret Thatcher’s face and then the profile of Dr. Francis Schaeffer, and I wonder, “When I am gone will my children consign these to a local charity shop, and how much longer will their names remain anything more that a figure in history?
With the advent of printing and the blossoming of the publishing industry, Solomon’s words here are no longer as true as they might have been then, but then I reflect further and realise that the vast majority of us will not go down in history. We found ourselves yesterday talking with some friends about one of our son’s high jumping exploits and the fact that his name is still up on a board back at his old school for holding the school’s high jump record. The reality is that most boys there today pass the board without giving it a thought and even when they do most will wonder who that person was. Fame is a very present experience.
I enjoy looking back over the period of my life and reflecting on who and what were in it. Yet if the truth is told, most of the great names from the past seventy years are just that, names. It’s difficult to remember politicians from fifty year ago unless they really stood out like Churchill. And who were the musicians back in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s? We struggle to remember some of their names when their music is played again today, but so often by a copycat band so even their names aren’t mentioned any more. I think back to those of my family who have died. When it comes to great sportsmen, footballers or Olympians, how few are remembered thirty years later? Only by those whose job it is to remember. The rest of us have far more to fill our thoughts. I remember my sister and my parents very clearly but my grandparents only stick in my mind courtesy of old photos, but I know virtually nothing about them. They are disappearing in history.
So if what Solomon says is true about us, and we will soon be consigned to be lost in history, why do some of us strive to achieve great things today? Is it to try and get on the roll of honour and be remembered? It’s a pretty shallow ambition.
I believe there is a reason that Solomon does not touch upon God in his writings for why we do strive today, why we do try to be successful and achieve greatness? It is simply because we are made in the image of God and as such we have creative instincts, instincts that desire to create, desire to write, desire to invent, desire to organise, and all of these desires have an end product in mind and we strive to achieve it, and in so doing gain some temporary fame perhaps. So some of us become great musicians, some great writers, some create important companies that produce many jobs and strengthen the economy. Others give themselves to service, voluntary or otherwise and have names that appear in the public eye. These, I want to suggest, are simply because we are made in the image of God. That does not make us perfect, far from it, but it does mean we achieve in certain areas of life and in so achieving also achieve a measure of fame.
Fame is about being known but mention the name Jack the Ripper and immediately we realise that not all fame is good. In the past five to ten years we have had almost a stream of so-called celebrities paraded and prosecuted in the public eye for wrong behaviour with children or young people. One moment they were great figures and the next they were fallen stars. In fifty years time will my grandchildren remember them? Probably not. A little later Solomon decides, “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work,” (Eccles 2:24) Just get on with life and enjoy what you do, he says. It is jaded and it is defeatist and it is “under the sun”
In the previous meditation we adjusted the focus of this lens peering at life to discern meaning and purpose and focused it on our lives today as Christians, how we have a new purpose today which is to live out the lives we have but now being lead by Him. There are two things that can deliver us from a ‘jaded world and jaded life’ view.
The first is entering into the life He has given us to live out today which involves bringing His love into focus. We may still be a great singer or a great writer or a great politician or whatever, but our foundation and our goal is His love. While we are on this earth our goal has to be His will, or as Jesus put it, His kingdom. In a different context Jesus said, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,” (Mt 6:33) but it applies well here. When we fail to do that we put our energies into things that will not last – including fame – and along the way become jaded.
The second thing that can deliver us from this jaded mentality is to remember that there is a life to follow this one. This is not all there is. One day we are going to enter the courts of heaven to embark on an even greater adventure. They say that when you die you cannot take your money with you. You can’t take your fame either. When we enter heaven the wonder will be that you got there at all and the reason will be not your fame or your achievements, but that fact that Jesus died for you and you accepted his salvation. There will be no boasting in that.
If we are allowed to look back on our lives with the vision of God that sees everything, we will see that everything we were was an act of God’s grace. We will see our failures and our weaknesses and, although in the public eye we may have received acclaim, in the courts of heaven they will know what you were really like behind the closed doors, what you were really like inside your mind. Yes, we fell short of the glory of God but His glory was still there for us.
Maybe we’ll see that any fame we had – any great writing, any great invention, any great work was actually done by the guidance of God with the grace of God. We thought it was us but in reality it was Him blessing His world. And so we stand there naked of all fame and glory, but suddenly we realise as never before, “I am a child of God. This is my home. This is my Father!” and all of what we achieved on the earth becomes meaningless. It was good while it lasted but now, here in eternity, it is something else. Hallelujah!