Carolyn and I just returned from a lengthy high school graduation event that recognized and honoured some 216 graduates, including one who is very special to us. She is the daughter of friends who came to Prince George from India (via several years of study in England) about seven years ago. It has been a delight to get to know her, her brother and family over this period of time. Jemima is like a family member — probably more like a grand-child at this point in our lives.
It’s been awhile since we’ve attended a high school graduation ceremony. Being there today brought back memories of similar ceremonies when our own children graduated more than 15 years ago. But it’s amazing how one’s perspective changes in that period of time. Once again, the ceremony’s focus, rightfully so in this context, was on the accomplishments of students who had reached this milestone in their education. It was also on the future and the endless possibilities of where their past and future learning might lead them. They were challenged to consider how they can best contribute to the world’s life and need. It was heart-warming and inspiring in so many ways.
Watching that large number of students cross the stage without really knowing any of them (except one) gave us lots of opportunity for thought about the process unfolding before our eyes. Though hardly any of them were known to us each was a special person, not only because of their unique abilities and family identities, but because each one was special from God’s perspective. Each had been created, according to the Bible, in the very image of God. Each had the capacity to think, to feel, to communicate, and to make choices according to their sense of reasonableness. Of all the possible combinations of genetic code in their conceptions, these were the ones who had come to life and were now real participants in the life of this community and the world.
Many of them received special recognition with various kinds of awards because of their achievements in study, sport, or social engagement. In watching this process, I couldn’t help but think of a day when each person will receive some kind of recognition for how they have believed (or not), and for how they have invested their talents according to God’s plans and expectations. Unlike this graduation ceremony, not everyone will be rewarded with gifts of recognition and honour. Not everyone will receive commendation for the good they have done. In God’s Great Graduation ceremony of the future, some will be rewarded but others will actually be condemned because they have missed the mark, have tried to achieve God’s approval by their own criteria and methods, or have simply been opposed to God and his means of salvation. It’s a sobering thought.
Recently I have had occasion to meditate again on the wisdom literature especially of the Book of Ecclesiastes. Evidently authored in some way by the great king Solomon of Israel in the 10th Century (BC), it represents the epitome of divine wisdom for all ages. The great wisdom of this book is that human achievement, no matter how lofty (as witnessed and experienced by Solomon himself), can never bring the satisfaction that it seems to promise. In fact, Solomon’s testimony at the end of his life is that all such effort is ultimately empty and worthless. This is the curse of sin’s power in human life and history — the extension of what we read about in Genesis 3.
But thankfully, Solomon doesn’t leave us hanging there. Glimpses of grace in our human experience, such as enjoying good food and drink as well as ordinary work and beautiful companionship, lead us to consider the greatest grace of all which is true wisdom. True wisdom, Solomon concludes, is only found in having a proper “fear” of God that moves us to seek after him including the alignment of our lives with his laws, his commandments. Apparently, as in the case of Solomon, it often takes a life-time of “chasing rainbows” to discover this great secret — that true wisdom and true life is only found in knowing God.
As I watched the graduation ceremony this afternoon, I couldn’t help but think how the disposition and inclination of young people is to think they “have the world by the tail” so to speak. Their ambition to experience the world and all it has to offer seems limitless. Opportunities for the exploitation of all those ambitions seem to exist on every hand. Yet it’s just a matter of time, sometimes sooner than later, that those ambitions are easily thwarted by human limitation and suffering.
What I hope and pray for young people who are graduating is that they might earnestly heed the words of the great sage, Solomon, who urged his young counterparts to “remember their Creator in the days of their youth” while they still have their whole lives before them. For it is in paying attention to God and His wisdom that we are ultimately led to the One in whom “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). It is in believing and cultivating a relationship with God in Jesus Christ that life becomes full and rich because every moment is lived in dependence and connection with him.