Mr. Minderhoud is a teacher in Covenant Christian High School and a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church, Walker, Michigan.
Springtime is here again. Another winter has come and gone. The changing of the seasons affords us great opportunity to examine some of the spiritual truths illustrated by the creation’s cycles. The cycles mentioned in Scripture demonstrate both the blessed life lived in communion with Christ and the cursed life lived apart from Him. On the one hand, we notice how the cycles demonstrate the glory of God, displaying His attributes and His loving care for His people. As we noticed in a previous article [April 1 issue], cycles show us God’s faithfulness, both in His provision to His people and other creatures, and in the keeping of His word.
On the other hand, we can also see how the cycles illustrate the effects of sin and the curse of God that comes upon the wicked and even upon the creation. They clearly testify of the vanity of life apart from God. Having already examined how cycles show God’s blessed attributes and faithful provision to His people, we now turn our attention to how the cycles illustrate the vanity of life apart from God.
One of the obvious characteristics of cycles is their repetitious nature. In the human body there are a number of such cycles. The circulatory system—the flowing of blood throughout the body—is one example. Its very name shows its circular and repetitious nature.
The circulatory system is a classic example of the repetitious cycles that are found everywhere in the creation. The movement of the blood throughout the body can be examined if we look from the vantage point of a single red blood cell. Red blood cells are the vitally important component of blood that delivers the all-important oxygen to the cells and removes the “toxic” carbon dioxide. They form in the bone marrow and are transported in the blood that is pumped throughout the body. A red blood cell is pumped from the heart to the lungs, where it drops off waste carbon dioxide and picks up fresh oxygen. Each red blood cell consists of 250 hemoglobin molecules, and each hemoglobin molecule carries up to four oxygen molecules. Thus, after leaving the lungs, the red blood cell carries a payload of up to 1000 oxygen molecules. It then journeys back to the heart, by which it is pumped through a long and vast network of blood vessels in order to deliver the oxygen to various cells of the body. As it gives its oxygen molecules to the cells, it also picks up the cells’ waste gases—carbon dioxide.
Carried along in the flow of blood, the red blood cell eventually returns to the heart and is pumped back to the lungs once again to exchange gases—dropping off the waste carbon dioxide and picking up the life-giving oxygen. The red blood cell repeats this journey, which it accomplishes in less than a minute’s time, some half a million times before it retires after about a four-month tour of duty. The red blood cell is then dismembered and reusable parts are recycled in other parts of the body. It has been discarded and another takes up its work, caught up in the same endless cycle.¹
This repetitious cycle, like all other cycles, illustrates an aspect of the vanity of life apart from God. When the Preacher in Ecclesiastes considers the toil of man and all the riches he acquires in this life, he asks in what does it profit? “In all points as he came, so shall he go: and what profit hath he that hath labored for the wind?” (Eccl. 5:16). Because of the Fall, all creation has become subject to vanity. Without the God of all the earth as a focal point and Christ at its center, the cycles of life—the coming and going of each generation, the rising and the setting of the sun, the movement of the wind around the globe, and the cycling of the waters back into the seas—seem to be futile. They work, they rise, they whirl, they run—only to have to go through it all again (Eccl. 1). They demonstrate that a life under the curse of God brings no satisfaction. “All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full” (Eccl. 1:7). The cycles, therefore, clearly demonstrate the hopeless and insatiable pursuits of a life apart from the one true God.
This vanity of life apart from God is observed in the life of the wicked. As the blood flows throughout the body, only to begin its tour again minutes later, so the life of the world is a continual cycle of vanity. Apart from God, life has no profit, and nothing seems to satisfy. The world seeks to escape this reality, ironically, by pursuing that which is itself empty, futile, and non-satisfying. Millions of dollars are spent each year in the hope of winning the lottery (wealth gotten by vanity—Prov. 13:11) to attain a life of ease free from wearisome toil. Many lives and marriages are destroyed by drug and alcohol abuse—the goal of which was to bring happiness. “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise” (Prov. 20:1). Man endlessly toils to acquire material things, and yet satisfaction and happiness in such are never reached. “He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase” (Eccl. 5:10). All that the world pursues is merely for the moment and in an attempt to escape the reality of the curse of God that is the lot of fallen man. They try to find satisfaction in the things of this life, but it cannot be found.
In sorrow we recognize that we, by nature, are prone to this same folly. We too are tempted to place our trust in earthly riches and busy ourselves with worthless activities. All too often we waste so much precious time and energy in pursuits that have no enduring positive effect on our spiritual lives. We are tempted to find satisfaction in the fleeting things of this life. Our life, however, is from above and ought to be differentiated from the life of the ungodly, whose life consists only in present earthly realities.
Thanks be to God that we are ultimately delivered from such vanity! By the work of His Spirit, we begin to hate that which is vain and begin to pursue the “meat which endureth unto everlasting life” (John 6:27). In our day-to-day cyclical routines of sleeping and rising, eating and drinking, working and resting, we find joy, not in seeking the vain things of this life but in striving for that which endures. For whatever work the Lord gives us, whether that be at our daily workplace, or in raising our children, or in the church, or in journeying on in life without the closeness of a loved one, or even in lying upon a bed of affliction—whatever work it may be, we do it heartily, as unto the Lord, for it is not empty, wearisome toil but the God-ordained way—the only way—to bring us to our place in glory.
“See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16). We are told in Ecclesiastes to fear God and keep His commandments. That is our duty and delight. With that foremost in our minds we can serve Him rightly in our labors and in the use of the many good gifts He gives to us.
Another aspect of the vanity of this life apart from God is found in the fact that since the Fall, death is inevitable in the life of all creatures. All creatures, man and beast alike, must die. The cycles of the earth clearly illustrate this aspect of vanity as well.
The human life cycle is used often in Scripture to show the vanity of life apart from God. The consequences of sin are such that from the moment we are born we are dying, until ultimately we leave this earthly life and a new generation takes up our place. This cycle of life and death is readily seen within our bodies. Consider the nature of our bones alone. Every day our bones are changing, as bone cells constantly are destroyed and then replaced anew. In our youth, the bone cells replace themselves at a tremendous rate, so that each year one fifth of our skeleton is demolished and then replaced or rebuilt. However, by our mid-thirties this bone replacement rate begins to slow. As we age, the rate at which bone cells are destroyed is greater than that at which they are replaced. Hence we begin to lose bone density. This is particularly true for women, who tend to lose bone at a faster rate than men (8% per decade compared with 3% per decade) and will more often suffer from osteoporosis. The obvious result is that older people generally have weaker bones than children. Elderly people begin to stoop over as the skeleton can no longer hold up under the weight of the body. Their bones break in relatively simple falls that would not have fazed them in their youth. Even the jawbone and teeth are affected, so that teeth begin to crack or fall out.¹ Thus it is very evident that man weakens and dies. “All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again” (Eccl. 3:20). One generation is born and another dies.
Every cycle demonstrates that things exist in a particular state for a time, but then change or die off. They all illustrate the simple truth that, from the perspective of life without God, there is a futility to life. Life begins, and after a short time, ends. All the results of man’s labor seem to be for naught, for it all perishes—man included. “As he came forth of his mother’s womb, naked shall he return to go as he came, and shall take nothing of his labor, which he may carry away in his hand” (Eccl. 5:15).
The ungodly recognize this tension and vanity of life. Apart from God, not only is their labor vain, but their life will end. The world seeks to cover up the effects of death in an attempt to hide from the very truth that all must die and face the Judge of all the earth. Men try desperately to eradicate disease, pain, and sickness, for this life and this life only is all there is to them. What modern medicine cannot cure, drugs, alcohol, or a mad pursuit of pleasure and lasciviousness can alleviate. Or perhaps exercise and diet can at least prevent or put off for a time. Man finds the need to attach his name to a building or to cover the effects of aging in a futile attempt to assure himself that all is not lost.
This vanity is ultimately shown in man’s pursuit of a god other than Jehovah. In a hatred for God, man worships the creature rather than the Creator. Throughout history, man has worshiped the cycles and the objects in them, such as the sun, the god of fertility, the rivers, and the like. It is no different today. It has been stated that nearly twenty-five percent of Europeans believe in reincarnation, “a rebirth within the eternal cycle of nature.”¹ Rather than worship the Almighty God, who alone is over and above these cycles, man tries to escape the vanity of these cycles and of death by joining himself to them in the attempt to make himself live on and on as well. Ironically, man serves and worships the very cycles that demonstrate the vanity of life and the folly of his ways. In God’s just judgment He turns them over to their ungodliness so that they delve further into such wickedness.
In sorrow, we recognize the same tendencies within ourselves, due to our own sinful natures. Like the wicked, we too at times want to escape the reality of death and recognize within ourselves the tendency to place our trust in our health or in modern medicine. We see this when we are so easily disturbed by the events in our lives and in the lives of others. Regularly we are laid low with pain and sickness. We come down with prolonged illnesses and diseases—polio and small pox of yesteryear and cancer of today. Young and old alike are taken from this life—all must die. God teaches us through these personal circumstances, as well as through the pictures in creation (grass that withers and dies), that this life passes away and our only hope is in Him. Although we are earthly, and have many ties to this earthly life, we know that this is not our ultimate home. We care for our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit and use and enjoy the gifts God gives to us in this life as citizens of the kingdom of heaven in service to the King.
For God’s people, whose home is in heaven, there is an aspect of joy in knowing that life is brief—that by the means of death we enter into the joys of eternal glory. The shortness and frailty of our lives, illustrated in the earthly cycles, stir within us a desire to walk in all holiness during the time God gives us in this life and to set our hope and trust on Him and His kingdom. “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Ps. 90:12).
Hope in Christ
Thanks be to God, who delivers us from vanity! What a wonder is the work of grace within us to deliver us from such wretchedness. We can hardly imagine a life that tries to find its “salvation” from the ills and sorrows of this life in the earthly things of this life. What endless futility. Christ alone delivers us. By the work of Christ in our hearts we cry with the psalmist, “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way” (Ps. 119:37).
Christ, by His sacrifice on the cross; by conquering sin, death, and the grave; by His perfect obedience, reconciles us to God. This destroys the hopelessness of this life and gives blessed meaning to everything in this life and the life to come. He alone delivers us from the bondage of sin and frees us from the vanity of this life by taking us to be His own.
Knowing that we belong to Christ, recreated and called to perform good works, we are called to be “steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (I Cor. 15:58). Life has purpose and meaning for we labor in the kingdom of God for the glory of God and the benefit of other saints. Life has a goal and an end as we look to that eternal life in heaven dwelling with God and all the saints in perfect blessed fellowship. Thanks be to God for Christ and His work.
We give thanks to God for the earthly cycles. They illustrate to us the vanity of life in this world apart from Christ and humbly remind us from what we have been delivered. The cycles also give testimony as they run their course, that the end of all things will come. We know that this life shall end, only to usher in a new, better, heavenly life. The cycles are reminders that, although they seem to repeat endlessly, they will one day complete the work that God has for them. When Christ comes again, the cycles as we know them will no longer be needed. “Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended” (Is. 60:20). Heaven will be different. “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4). All we need, Christ will supply us. Therefore, for us, co-heirs with Christ, cycles are not hopeless and empty but, rather, they are constant reminders that Christ comes.
Yes, this earthly life will end, but it is not the end. For us, an eternity of perfect fellowship with God awaits. Then, then we shall be satisfied.¹ Till then we labor faithfully in joy, praying in our hearts each day, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly!”
1 Brand, Paul and Philip Yancey. In His Image. Zondervan Publishing House: Grand Rapids, MI, 1987, pp. 54-59.
1 Martini, Frederic H. Fundamentals of Anatomy and Physiology—Third Edition. Prentice Hall: New Jersey, 1995, pp. 187-193.
1 Klautke, JÃ¼rgen-Burkhard. “The State of the Reformed Faith in Germany, and What Our Church (the Confessing Evangelical Reformed Church) Stands For.” Protestant Reformed Theological Journal. November 2007, volume 41, no, 1, p. 50.
1 Psalter 32, stanza 4. The Psalter. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, MI, revised edition (PRC), 1998.