Why should I fear in days of adversity,
When the iniquity of my foes surrounds me,
6 Even those who trust in their wealth
And boast in the abundance of their riches?
7 No man can by any means redeem his brother
Or give to God a ransom for him–
8 For the redemption of his soul is costly,
And he should cease trying forever–
9 That he should live on eternally,
That he should not undergo decay.
10 For he sees that even wise men die;
The stupid and the senseless alike perish
And leave their wealth to others.
11 Their inner thought is that their houses are forever
And their dwelling places to all generations;
They have called their lands after their own names.
12 But man in his pomp will not endure;
He is like the beasts that perish.
I am not a rich man, and I have no plans of becoming one, so it would seem that this is an easy psalm to write about. After all, writing or preaching about somebody else’s weaknesses is much easier than writing about my own. And yet, I know that deep within my heart is a longing for significance–not the noble kind in which I find all of my validation in Christ, but the fleshly kind in which others speak of me in tones alternating between sheer delight and reverence. Vain much? Oh, that’s not even the half of it.
Few will ever be rich, and yet everyone has his shot at stardom these days. We live in the age of YouTube, American Idol (is that still on?), Twitter, niche blogs, and reality television shows about families built around their 10-year-old sons’ go-kart racing careers (Kart Life, go look it up). If you are not micro-famous, you must not be trying. One of the defining characteristics of this generation of emerging adults is narcissism. After all, they (we?) have been told their whole lives that they are unique and that they can achieve whatever they set their minds to–how could they be anything but narcissistic?
Thoughts of eternity, of a land far away on the other side of the grave, seem to be rare in our present time. There is always so much going on, so fast and so often, that rarely do people take the time to slow down and be alone with their thoughts. And yet the longing for eternity’s cousin, immortality, has never been stronger. The quest for the Fountain of Youth never ends. Whether it’s the song “Forever Young,” the store Forever21, or the Hollywood plastic surgery industry, our culture is obsessed with living forever and looking good doing it. I read a headline just today asking the question if the first person who will live to 1,000 is already alive now.
Wealth, fame, and immortality. Not much has changed in a few thousand years. And still, despite our best efforts, people come and go; they grow old, wear out, and die. And God’s Word endures, adding all the more sting to its rebuke of our pride: “Man in his pomp will not endure.” Hoard all of the wealth that you can; someone else will take it when you die. Make a name for yourself; you will be forgotten. Even name streets, communities, schools, and regions after yourself; they will forget who you were, and someone will probably change the names. “Their inner thought is that their houses are forever.” Men come and go; God endures.
Money can buy a lot, of stuff but Jesus’ question still stands unanswered 2,000 years later, “What will a man give in exchange for his soul?” As the psalmist writes, “the redemption of his soul is costly.” Costly beyond measure. As v.7 says, we cannot save ourselves and we cannot save one another. Redemption is beyond us; we do not have the currency to exchange for the ransom of eternity. But Jesus does. He is the one “who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time (1 Tim 2:6).”
Let us not entrust ourselves to the idols of wealth, fame, or manmade immortality. Our wealth cannot buy us what we really need. Our fame, at the most, will be momentary. And our pursuit of immortality will end when we die. But let us entrust ourselves to the One who is able to save us from death.
But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol,
For He will receive me.
– Psalm 49:15