Have you ever asked yourself what Solomon, son of David, king of Israel, and author of much Biblical wisdom, would have to say about modern retirement? Probably not, but I’m going to write about it anyway, because Solomon actually had some relevant advice.
Since this blog is not a source of income, I have a day job which happens to involve helping companies help their employees save and invest for retirement. In American culture, retirement has in some ways replaced heaven as the future we hope for. Advertisements promise retirees can do all the things they dreamed of doing during their working years. Travel. Relax. Read those books you’ve been putting off reading. If you can, buy a yacht. After all, if you’ve worked so hard for it, you deserve it, they say. Like many marketing schemes, something good and prudent (saving for retirement) is wrapped in a lot of gloss to get you to do something you might not do otherwise. Sacrifices made now are worthwhile because of a later reward.
A guest at church this morning inspired me to write this post, since he was working with a ministry to grandparents. The ministry is called Legacy Coalition (website link). While talking with him, I made a connection and wanted to share it here. That connection is that Solomon when writing Ecclesiastes was acting in the role of a wise, Godly grandfather in a way that offers a sharp contrast to the story of retirement that goes unchallenged in our culture.
In Ecclesiastes, Solomon lays out an argument that he lived almost the exact life pictured in our retirement ads but learned to regret it. While still a very young man, he had the power and wealth to try anything he wanted. He planted vineyards and drank a lot of wine. He built gardens and pools and acquired many servants and property. He also had 700 wives and 300 concubines. He could have everything he desired – everything the retirement ads would show you if they could be R-rated – but he ended up disappointed. Ecclesiastes is his advice to those who come after to not repeat his mistakes.
While a blog post can’t cover all of Ecclesiastes, I must add that Solomon did encourage us to invest for the future, but also not to place all our bets on one specific vision of the future: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.” (Ecclesiastes 11:1-2). A long, healthy and prosperous retirement is one possible future among many, but eternity with God is a future certainty. Earlier in the book, Solomon writes: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) God gives us a sense of what He has planned for us, but not many of the details. We should not foolishly ignore the future, but we should not cling to one future we desire at the cost of the present God has given us and the future He already knows everything about.
Solomon encourages everyone – young and old – to live more in their own moment, enjoying the gifts God has given them and sharing those gifts with the people around them. While Solomon is encouraging the young to not repeat his own mistakes, he is also encouraging the old to share their perspective. In both cases, Solomon is telling us not to stress too much about what may or may not happen, but to invest what we have in light of what will be meaningful in eternity. Joy comes from enjoying the relationships and things God has blessed us with now, not from sacrificing the now in light of a false vision of retirement.
Solomon recommends joy in God’s provision, and so I close with this quote, and pray that we all experience joy and thankfulness in the gifts God has given us today. Don’t keep them to yourself.
“Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.” – Ecclesiastes 9:7-10