Rescued from an empty and futile life

In at least one way, 2020 has been a gift to us. It’s gotten us all off our daily hamster wheel and allowed us to get some fresh perspective about our lives. Which makes it interesting that we’re wearing masks! Maybe we should “unmask” some hidden things we don’t like to think about. Because, like Mariah’s story, there’s a part of us that seeks greater meaning and purpose.

James said our life is like “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14). I’ve personally experienced the loss of loved ones, both young and old, over the years. One moment they were here, very much alive…now they’re gone.

But one thing is always true.

Life goes relentlessly on.

And there’s no justice in death if this life is all there is.

Our coming and goings are like footprints in sand on the beach. No matter how significant we think our lives have been, its imprint will soon disappear like we were never there, which is what makes what Peter says here so important.

18 For you know that your lives were ransomed once and for all from the empty and futile way of life handed down from generation to generation. (1 Pet.1:18a TPT*)

First, let’s look at two key words and phrases here and see what we can learn:

“Ransomed”: λυτρόω (lytroō). The best definition is that we were rescued. It’s the same Greek word used in the Septuagint (LXX) Old Testament when God said He would rescue Israel from Egyptian bondage. Here’s an English translation of Exodus 6:6 from the LXX (L.C.L. Brenton):

Go, speak to the children of Israel, saying, I [am] the Lord; and I will lead you forth from the tyranny of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from bondage, and I will ransom (lytroō) you with a high arm, and great judgment. (Exod.6:6 LXX *)

“Empty and futile way of life”: This phrase is from one long Greek word, πατροπαράδοτος (patroparadotos). It simply means traditions handed down by our ancestors. I think this translator says “empty and futile” because it has a negative connotation since we’re being rescued from it.

Remember how short my time is;
For what futility have You created all the children of men? (Psalm 89:47 NKJV*)

17 This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind (Eph. 4:17 NKJV*)

“Futility” simply means pointless or useless. In this context, it’s marching through time, going through the motions, following everyone else before us without any sense of higher purpose. And no matter how much we try to fill up the void with “stuff,” it ultimately comes down this: we’re born, we live our lives, and eventually we die.

Jackson Browne stated this poignant truth in his song, “The Pretender” (1976):

“I’m going to rent myself a house
In the shade of the freeway
I’m going to pack my lunch in the morning
And go to work each day
And when the evening rolls around
I’ll go on home and lay my body down
And when the morning light comes streaming in
I’ll get up and do it again
Amen
Say it again
Amen”

Solomon, who might’ve been the first nihilist, had his finger firmly on it. His litany of hopelessness in the following verses sounds like something out of the movie, “Groundhog  Day”:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”

12 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! 14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. (Eccl.1:2, 12-14 NKJV)

10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
    I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
    and this was the reward for all my toil.
11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
    and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
    nothing was gained under the sun. (Eccl.2:10-11 NKJV)

God had given Solomon a great gift—the wisdom to see the ultimate end of seeking fulfillment from this life “under the sun.” Nothing was out of His reach! If there was something he wanted, he could have it. He attained what everyone in this world dreams of, chases after, yet he said it was all “meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” The famous atheist, Nietzsche, would’ve saved himself a lot of trouble trying to mitigate against nihilism if he would’ve just read Solomon.

So, let’s go back to what Peter said. Christ has rescued us from the empty and futile traditions passed down from generation to generation.

This is part of the societal construct alienated from God called the “world” in Scripture. It’s not the people, it’s the paradigm, the mindset…to quote Morpheus, “it’s the world pulled over your eyes.”

Beloved, Jesus came to give you so much more! As Paul said, in Christ we have hope that does not disappoint (Rom.5:5); it’s an anchor to our soul that no circumstance in this world can touch (Heb.6:19).  It’s what Mariah finally found when she cried out in desperation in her bathtub.

But Jesus not only rescued us from just “going through the motions” in this life. By dying for us and as us, He brought us into His life—now, everyday, and forever. The fellowship of Love He has enjoyed with the Father from eternity is now ours!

Our life not only has meaning and purpose right now, it extends beyond this life. We’re called to be part of something much bigger than what our tiny finite brains can possibly comprehend (see Eph.1:3-23).

Our ransomed life is on a continual trajectory of endless discovery and purpose. Infinite joy and pleasure and satisfaction, forever available to us. We’ll never stop being awestruck, the mystery never stops unfolding, and we’ll never stop seeing new facets of God’s unfathomable love.

Think about it. What part of what you’re doing will have significant purpose one thousand years from now? Jesus came to rescue you from such a meaningless fate.

* All emphasis added.

About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 39 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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16 Responses to Rescued from an empty and futile life

  1. Carmen says:

    Reading this reminds me why some people call Christianity a death cult. Thanks for the reinforcement of that . . . How awful.

  2. jonahzsong says:

    I really like “Our ransomed life is on a continual trajectory of endless discovery and purpose. Infinite joy and pleasure and satisfaction, forever available to us. We’ll never stop being awestruck, the mystery never stops unfolding, and we’ll never stop seeing new facets of God’s unfathomable love.”

    It seems to me that even in the mundane tasks of our physical lives, Spirit desires to, and will if we allow Him, open the eyes of our hearts to this “endless discovery. . . infinite joy. . .”

    Wonderful post, packed with so much to meditate upon.

    L-RD Bless, Keep, Shine. . .

    • Mel Wild says:

      I agree. Even in the mundate and simple things, we can see the majesty and wonder of God all around us. Life itself is full of wonder that fascinates a childlike heart. When our life is full of gratitude for everything, it really opens our eyes to these hidden things and brings great joy! Thanks for your comments. Blessings.

  3. John Cummuta says:

    Amen!

  4. Jenny N says:

    I was interested to read your post because I’ve also been reflecting on Ecclesiastes recently, and your thoughts are much in line with where I’m at – how Jesus came to rescue us from such a meaningless existence. This was a confirmation for me. Thanks for sharing.

  5. LightWriters says:

    TY for this thoughtful word — ransomed. I love that no matter what, God also meets us in the mundane and little things of daily life…like our quiet prayers no one but God hears. I have so appreciated that in this unusual time of confusion and uncertainty, I have known a greater awareness of His nearness. I have enjoyed things being quieter in my city. The futility lays for all of us I think in chasing after things which have no true value. It is ALL…about His Kingdom. And being ransomed by His great love.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Amen! What you said here reminds me of the verse in Acts 17, “In Him we live, and move, and have our being.” This was an ancient thought that Paul picked up on that perfectly describes our life in Christ. There is no such thing as “outside of Christ,” even though we may be tempted (or blinded) to think there is. He holds all things together, including us! This means exactly what you’re saying, He is always with us, always working in us. There is no such thing as being alone! Jesus doesn’t do social-distancing! He rescued us from that. All we have to do is open our heart and be aware of His presence. And then we find that He’s more real that the air we breathe. Praise God!
      Thanks for your comments. Blessings.

  6. Good post, Mel. Well said! I really love Ecclesiastes (and even Nietzsche.) I think in part that is because I can be such a nihilist myself except by the time we get to “vanity, all is vanity,” I am laughing at our absurdity because it is so irrational, because even our own nihilism becomes vanity, dust in the wind. I mean, you sure don’t see dogs laying around contemplating the meaninglessness of their existence.

    I really enjoy the tale of the woman with the perfume too, because she has been carefully preserved, memorialized. What endures forever? Love! So the Bible tells us, “Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.’ She didn’t build any great temples or walk around solving the world’s problems, she simply loved well. In the end we all instinctively know that is what really matters, that is where our purpose lives.

    • Mel Wild says:

      “I am laughing at our absurdity because it is so irrational, because even our own nihilism becomes vanity, dust in the wind. I mean, you sure don’t see dogs laying around contemplating the meaninglessness of their existence.”

      LOL! That’s a great point, IB! It’s our vanity that wants to navel-gaze about such things. It’s also absurd to rail against these things, as C.S. Lewis said in “The Abolition of Man.”

      “It is no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.”

      What the woman and the perfume tells us is that the only things that matter must transcend this societal construct called the world, because nothing in this world lasts. And she found out the secret, as you said. She learned to love well. That’s an eternal truth we CAN experience in this world. 🙂

  7. Tricia says:

    This was very thoughtful Mel. I’ve found myself slowing down a bit among the Covid craziness, at least in the beginning when things were very much shut down and I developed a good habit of taking time in the afternoon to just sit with a cup of coffee and reflect on life and what’s important. Now I”m a caffeine addict but I do feel this has helped me focus more on eternal things.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks, Tricia. Coffee and reflecting on life is one of the good things in life! Stopping to reflect helps us to stay calibrated toward what’s important. Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living.
      The caffeine addiction is just a side benefit. 🙂

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