Next-to-Last Words

Blind Faith (No. 36, 2017)
Weekly Devotional for September 7, 2017
Next-to-Last Words

Last words are often famous. Next-to-last words may be equally
as important but may be much less noted. Next week will be the last regular
posting of Blind Faith. I have worked on some final words that are
meaningful to me, at least. These next-to-last words may garner less
attention, but are important continuations of the overall theme of Blind
Faith.

The prolific science and science-fiction author, Isaac Asimov,
gave some simple, unique, significant last words. Celebrating publication of
his 451st book Asimov is reported to have said, “Having reached 451 books as
of now doesn’t help the situation. If I were to be dying now, I would be
murmuring, ‘Too bad! Only four hundred fifty-one.’ (Those would be my
next-to-last words. The last ones will be: ‘I love you, Janet.’)” Asimov’s
writings were highly regarded in numerous genres of fiction and non-fiction.
He is noted for having published in 9 of the 10 categories of the Dewey
decimal library classification system. His books range from juvenile
science-fiction to college-level textbooks on biochemistry to collections of
essays on the works of Shakespeare. But he consistently maintained humility
about his writings and his intelligence. His self-proclaimed statement about
his “next-to-last” and last words came true. His beloved second wife, Janet,
wrote that his final words were a profession of love for her. Asimov’s
next-to-last words were consistent with his body of writings. His last words
were from his heart.

The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes calls himself a teacher
or preacher (the meaning of the Hebrew word and book title Qoheleth, or
translated in the Greek Septuagint as Ecclesiastes). Traditional Old
Testament scholars identify the author as Solomon, who is understood to have
written the book late in his life. By this reckoning Ecclesiastes could be
thought of as Solomon’s next-to-last words. The book honestly acknowledges
the frailty and frequent despair of human life. Importantly, however, it
expresses a core of faith that is a sustaining source of hope. This is the
ultimate foundation that the teacher espouses for meaningful life. The
best-known words from the book set the ebbs and flows of life within the
context of God’s faithful care: “To every thing there is a season, and a
time to every purpose under the heaven: {2} A time to be born, and a time to
die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted..”
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 KJV) A person may be tempted to retreat from life into
cynical fatalism, but the Godly teacher affirms a more robust, faithful way
of life: “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set
eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from
beginning to end. {12} I know that there is nothing better for men than to
be happy and do good while they live. {13} That everyone may eat and drink,
and find satisfaction in all his toil–this is the gift of God.”
(Ecclesiastes 3:11-13 NIV) The teacher/preacher continues to write about the
joys and struggles of life. Finally he recognizes that the time has come to
wrap up this writing phase of his own experience. He takes note of what
every student of life has felt before offering a summary statement in
keeping with his body of work: “the writing of many books is endless [so do
not believe everything you read], and excessive study and devotion to books
is wearying to the body. 13 When all has been heard, the end of the matter
is: fear God [worship Him with awe-filled reverence, knowing that He is
almighty God] and keep His commandments, for this applies to every person.”
(Ecclesiastes 12:12-13 AMP) The preacher’s next-to-last words continue the
faithful story of the value of centering one’s life in vibrant relationship
with God.

As I write these next-to-last words in the regular series of
Blind Faith devotionals, Qoheleth’s experience serves as a pattern. My hope
and prayer is always to acknowledge the real pleasures and pains of life. My
faith concludes that God sustains each of us through both the joys and
trials that we live through daily. Each Blind Faith post has sought to
proclaim this hope and to encourage pursuit of this way of life. The basic
presupposition and guiding perspective for each week’s writing is well
stated in one of the first extended passages of scripture I ever memorized,
Psalm 100:

Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands.
{2 } Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with
singing.
{3} Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we
ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
{4} Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise:
be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
{5} For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth
to all generations. (Psalms 100 KJV)

My personal experience of this way of life has been through faith in Jesus
Christ. I have sought to filter the body of my writing through the
perspective I have of the core of that faith. I find that Paul summarized
that viewpoint clearly in one of my most favorite passages of scripture that
follows. It speaks to my purpose for writing these Blind Faith posts, i.e.
to encourage people to bring these verses of the Bible to life today:

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has
come! {18} All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ
and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: {19} that God was reconciling
the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he
has committed to us the message of reconciliation. {20} We are therefore
Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We
implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20
NIV)

This is the central message I have tried to communicate in each devotional
and through the 12-year collection of writings. My hope and prayer for you
is that your life exhibits personal faith in Jesus in your own everyday
thoughts and actions. That has been my goal all along. I hope you have found
encouragement to make practical application of what we learn about God’s
grace from the Bible and God’s Spirit guiding you to recognize God’s
presence in stories of daily life. That’s my next-to-last word..

Next week I will conclude regular Blind Faith posts with the
story that I have attempted to let guide my life and work along the path I
have mentioned here. I don’t expect them to be my ultimate last words, just
the last for this iteration of Blind Faith. Review your own life: what would
your next-to-last and last words say about your relationship with God and
others?

– J. Edward Culpepper