The American poet, Edgar Allen Poe, penned his insightful, and likely autobiographical words, depicting the vanity and futility which marks life. He spoke of trying to hold within his hands grains of golden sand. Yet, like life, “how they creep through my fingers to the deep.” Surveying the landscape of life, his bitter conclusion was, “Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?” He could not hold on to life, nor was there any substance to it.
Obviously, Poe was not the first, nor will he be the last, who has faced with heartache and misery, the fleeting, vapor-like transience of life. To the Great Bard, life was nothing more than “a walking shadow, a poor player” advancing with each hour to obscurity, marking a meaningless existence, “a tale told by an idiot … signifying nothing.”
Mark well that these were not people struggling for existence, living at the fringe of society and barely able to rise above the lowest rung in society. These were the thinkers, the intellectuals, the movers and shakers of the day. Here were the people upon whom others looked with admiration as those who were “really living!”
In contrast, travel back to a prison somewhere in Rome, where a man sits shackled to a soldier. Likely, he had recently been transferred there from his house arrest, and was awaiting his interview with Caesar. Life had not been kind to him: he had known shipwrecks, hunger, and stoning. His back was no stranger to the scourge and whip. Weariness and pain were his constant companions. The circumstances of life had been difficult.
No doubt we would have expected his words to be filled with bitterness, with harsh recriminations against the “fates” which had so ordered things to make life so difficult. Yet, listen as he speaks: “I therein do rejoice, yea and will rejoice” (Phil 1:18, KJV). With astounding certainty, he avows himself a man who is rejoicing amidst the most difficult of circumstances. His secret? He divulges it to us in the next breath: “For to me to live, Christ!” (v21, KJV). His life was lived by the strength of another (Gal 2:20), and for the glory of another. His life was all about Christ. His was a Christ-centered life.
The words come easily to us and make their way from the keyboard to the screen with little difficulty due to the familiarity which they possess. Yet their reality gives meaning to an otherwise empty life. A life which seeks in some way to advance His Name, His glory, and His kingdom is, according to Paul, the only life worth living.
Peter would readily and rapidly second Paul’s worldview. As he surveys in 1 Peter 1 the wonderful salvation which we as believers possess, he highlights one of the great purposes of redemption: “redeemed … from your vain conversation” (1Peter 1:18, KJV). We have been redeemed from an empty manner of life by precious blood. The vanity which marks creation must await a future day of deliverance. We, in contrast, have that deliverance now; it is due to the precious blood which procured our redemption.