Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
During our time in London there were three times we saw people swarm. It’s always fascinating to watch watch makes people swarm, what they’ll go crazy for. It’s telling, isn’t it?
- The crown jewels. Yes, people will wait in line like Disneyland to see the largest diamond in the world and see the queen’s crown. Opulence interests people. We’re fascinated by royalty.
- The Jonas brothers. Yes, walking along the Thames river we saw a swarm of crazed people and later found out it was due to an appearance of one of the Jonas brothers. Of course I had to ask, “Who are the Jonas Brothers?” I’m hopelessly out of the celebrity loop … But as a people we’re fascinated by celebrities.
- The dead. While the rest of the British Museum is a steady and calm stream of meandoring visitors, the Egyptian mummy hall looks more like an amusement park, complete with crowds and cameras. We’re fascinated by death.
It is an interesting place. It was the one part of the museum I remember from my visit eleven years ago (that and the Rosetta stone, that’s cool too.). In the Egyptian hall you can see the mummy of Cleopatra, along with a real unwrapped corpse from thousands of years ago, amazingly preserved because of the unique dry and sandy climate and burial rituals. It is eerie, I’ll say that. Walking through hall after hall of mummies, encased in tightly-wrapped graveclothes and elaborately painted coffins.
They were very concerned with how they would enter the afterlife.
And we’re very concerned with taking pictures of them now.
Later, staying with our missionary friends, we watched the children’s movie The Indian in the Cupboard. After the child has turned his toys into real, tiny people, one of them dies. The child is upset and wants to make him go away, “send him back” to the toy world so that he will no longer be real. He’s scared because this real, tiny person is actually dead in his hand.
The Indian rebukes him: “You want to send him away because he’s dead?! You are afraid of a dead man?”
I’ll admit, very often I’m the little boy who does not want to see anything that brings death too close. Sure, I’ll stare at a mummy kept safely tucked behind glass walls in a museum, but what if the dead were lying in my hand? What if I had to stare the horror right in the face?
And what if the worst part wasn’t even death, but something infinitely worse?
And maybe we are wise to put this eternal reality in front of our faces daily. Maybe, when we “number our days,” and see that they are short, we will “gain a heart of wisdom.” I’m all for laughter and mirth, but a heart of wisdom is what I need. The wisest man who ever lived said this,
It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart … The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. Ecc. 7:2,4
Is he saying never laugh? No, a merry heart does good like medicine. Is he saying to always be serious? No, in fact we’d all be wise to take ourselves a little less seriously. But the exhortation is against triviality. We’re wise to consistently ponder, of “lay to heart” things of substance. Things of eternal value.
Things that matter.
Things like eternal life and eternal death.
Because we naturally respond to whatever it is that we ponder, whatever we lay to heart. The Egyptians responded by feverishly ensuring that their physical bodies were well prepared for death.
Little Colton Burpo (from Heaven is For Real) responded by feverishly ensuring that everyone he loved “knew Jesus.”
What is our response?
…for this is the end of mankind, and the living will lay it to heart…