May 13, 2013

Scarabs, Egyptologists, and Dead Passions

It’s likely that your passions, whether love or hate, will die with you and forever be forgotten.

On the old library of a deceased scholar, one writer mused, “It was arranged on the plan of many college libraries, with tall projecting bookcases forming deep recesses of dusty silence, fit graves for the old hates of forgotten controversy, the dead passions of forgotten lives.”

Some time ago a friend of mine who was working on a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages was relating to me a sort of existential awakening that he had recently experienced.  As part of his course work, he interviewed an Egyptologist at the same university whose life’s work was to catalog scarabs.  The old scholar was excited to show off the various scarabs that he was analyzing and enthusiastically pointed out to my friend their distinguishing and remarkable characteristics.  The Ph.D. student related that as the old scholar was talking about his work, he felt a sort of empathy for the man realizing that there was almost no one who cared about the thing that he so passionately gave his life to study.  

This experience compelled my friend to reevaluate his own academic work and vocational goals.  It may be easy to write off the work of the Egyptologist in this specific scenario as inane (although I think this sort of work is very valuable), but what about the value of your work? What determines its value—is it arbitrary?  Without question, there will be some who will assign value to your work, and some who will denigrate your work regardless of what you do.  Some will simply dismiss the value of any work they do not understand.

Take a moment to do a couple of things: 1.) look over your own library for a moment and remember that each of the books there says something about your life—ask what your collection means about you and what it will mean to those who will own it upon your death (the absence of a library is just as telling); 2.) Ask yourself what you want your legacy to be and evaluate whether or not this is developing; 3.) Evaluate your answer from question 2 in light of biblical principles and values, i.e. what does God think about your work and how will He evaluate it?  4.) Remember these words written by a most famous inspired scholar thousands of generations ago:

“(5) For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any longer a reward, for their memory is forgotten. (6) Indeed their love, their hate and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun”  (Ecc. 9:5, 6).

In other words, it’s likely that your passions, whether love or hate, will die with you and forever be forgotten.  Consider the following thoughts/questions.

Christian:  It's true that "[W]hether then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, [you should] do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor 10:31).  What does this mean and what are the implications? Is it in keeping with wisdom that you should take care to employ your skills in that which will bear eternal fruit and make the most impact for the Kingdom? What does this look like for your specific vocation?

Cautions: 1.) What is the difference between striving for Kingdom impact, and striving for prominence/self-promotion?  How can you tell the difference in your own heart?  2.) What is the difference between doing work in Christ and doing work for Christ?  3.) Is God equally pleased with little done for Him as He is with more done for Him, or vice versa?  What biblical principles/passages relate to these questions? 

Reminder to the Minister: Personally, the above is a reminder to me not to become embroiled in unfruitful controversies that distract from the work God has given me to do.  To this end, I have had the following anonymous quote framed and placed on one of my own bookcases since my seminary days.  It reads: 

"Stick with your work.  Do not flinch because the lion roars; do not stop to stone the devil’s dogs; do not fool away your time chasing the devil’s rabbits.  Do your work.  Let liars lie, let sectarians quarrel, let critics malign, let enemies accuse, let the devil do his worst; but see to it nothing hinders you from fulfilling with joy the work God has given you.  He has not commanded you to be admired or esteemed.  He has never bidden you defend your character.  He has not set you at work to contradict falsehood (about yourself) which Satan’s or God’s servants may start to peddle, or to track down every rumor that threatens your reputation.  If you do these things, you will do nothing else; you will be at work for yourself and not for the Lord.

Keep at your work.  Let your aim be as steady as a star.  You may be assaulted, wronged, insulted, slandered, wounded and rejected, misunderstood, or assigned impure motives; you may be abused by foes, forsaken by friends, and despised and rejected of men.  But see to it with steadfast determination, with unfaltering zeal, that you pursue the great purpose of your life and object of your being until at last you can say, 'I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.'”

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