What’s Most Important in Life? A King’s Last Words Provide Food for Thought
By Mo Yan
I happened to stumble on a story from history while on my phone one day—it was really inspiring for me, so I wanted to share it with others. The story goes like this: Alexander the Great was one of the most successful military commanders in history. He became very ill on his return journey from his victorious military campaign, and just as he was about to die, he shared his three last wishes with his generals. First, he wanted his physicians to carry his coffin back, and he wanted the road to the cemetery where his coffin was to be taken to be strewn with gold, silver, and precious stones. Lastly, he wanted both of his hands to be placed so they were outside of the coffin. Alexander explained that by doing so, he wished to impart three lessons upon the living. First, no matter how great a physician’s skill, they cannot save people’s lives; they cannot determine a person’s life and death. Second, it isn’t worth it to spend an entire life in the pursuit of wealth; it’s a waste of precious time. And finally, each one of us comes into this world empty-handed, and we will leave empty-handed. We can’t take a single thing with us.
Alexander the Great passed with great regrets, and while on his deathbed he used his own personal experiences to warn others: Devoting a lifetime to accumulating wealth is useless, as no matter how rich you are, it can’t buy a life back, and it certainly can’t extend your life by a single second. Sadly, he didn’t have this revelation until he was on the brink of death. Something that thesaid popped into my head: “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). It really is true. As for we humans, life is greater than all else, and if we lose our lives, no matter how much money we have, it may as well be a heap of rubbish. It is of absolutely no use. Even though Alexander the Great used his own personal experiences to share this lesson with those after him so that they wouldn’t make the same mistakes he did, unfortunately, this has not brought about an awakening for people. Most are still going down the wrong path that Alexander did in their pursuits—they’re busy from dawn till dark every day, rushing to and fro, working hard, and some even employ all sorts of other tactics just for the sake of earning more money and enjoying a high-class lifestyle. I then couldn’t help but think of my own father …
From the time I was old enough to notice, my only impressions of my father were of seeing him from behind as he threw himself into making money, getting up early and working into the night. One day he suddenly passed out from exhaustion and he never woke up again. His sudden death was a huge tragedy for the family, and the people we knew all exclaimed: “He seemed perfectly fine, but he went just like that! No matter how much money he made, what use is it without a life to live? Don’t we all just end up empty-handed anyway?” My father’s death left me with feelings of pain, of suffering, and of regret for him. Thinking of him working so terribly hard to take care of the family and put food on the table, how frugal he was and how he had hardly taken a break for most of his life, but in the end he was still completely empty-handed, leaving this world with so many regrets…. I couldn’t help but sigh, and wonder: Why do people live that way? What’s the value and purpose of human life, anyway?
I later found the answers within, “God Himself, the Unique III.” God’s words say, “People spend their lives chasing after money and fame; they clutch at these straws, thinking they are their only means of support, as if by having them they could live on, exempt from death. But only when they are about to die do they realize how distant these things are from them, how weak they are in the face of death, how easily they shatter, how lonely and helpless they are, with nowhere to turn. They realize that life cannot be bought with money or fame, that no matter how wealthy a person may be, no matter how lofty their position, all are equally poor and insignificant in the face of death. They realize that money cannot buy life, that fame cannot erase death, that neither money nor fame can lengthen a person’s life by a single minute, a single second.” “Though the various survival skills that people spend their lives mastering can offer an abundance of material comforts, they never bring true peace and consolation to one’s heart, but instead make people constantly lose their direction, have difficulty controlling themselves, and miss every opportunity to learn the meaning of life; these survival skills create an undercurrent of anxiety about how to face death properly. People’s lives are ruined in this way.” Reading these words from God, I couldn’t help but ruminate: All of us really do see money as more precious than life itself, and we all think that if we have money, we have everything. Money is our pillar, it’s our currency for enjoying a nice life, and we’re constantly busy with our efforts to earn more and more money. When some of us first start working we’re just trying to feed our families, to get by, but once that goal is achieved our standards go up, and we begin the struggle to buy a house and a car. Once we’ve gotten those things, we keep on going so that we can lead a high-class lifestyle with a fancy car and a big house. We never stop to take a breath—there’s no end to it. Some people even physically run themselves ragged in their pursuit of money and die from overwork, giving up their very life. In spite of all this, each one of us is just careening down the path of making money, not caring a whit about things seemingly unrelated to money or fame. We do stop and reflect on life from time to time, wondering: Why are we alive? What’s the value of life? Could money really be the pursuit that we’re devoting our entire lives to? What sort of life should people really live? However, we don’t take the time to look for the answers, but once again get caught up in the evil trends of society and keep on rushing down that road. Bit by bit, we fritter away what’s left of our lives. Every single person is acting out this same old tragedy, and even though we know we can’t buy life with our money, we’re powerless to escape this. We’re just dragged along by our desires, never letting up in our struggle to make money until our bodies collapse from exhaustion and overwork. It’s only then that we begin to feel regret and fear—when death is at our door we finally have a great awakening. Isn’t it too late by then?
Since we lack the ability to transcend ourselves, who can help us escape the shackles of chasing after money? I read these words of God, “[T]here is an exceedingly simple way to free oneself from this state, which is to bid farewell to one’s former way of living; to say goodbye to one’s previous goals in life; to summarize and analyze one’s previous lifestyle, view of life, pursuits, desires, and ideals; and then to compare them with God’s will and demands for man, and see whether any of them is consistent with God’s will and demands, whether any of them delivers the right values of life, leads one to a greater understanding of the truth, and allows one to live with humanity and the likeness of a human being. When you repeatedly investigate and carefully dissect the various goals that people pursue in life and their myriad ways of living, you will find not one of them conforms to the Creator’s original intention with which He created humanity. All of them draw people away from the Creator’s sovereignty and care; they are all traps which cause people to become depraved, and which lead them to hell. After you recognize this, your task is to lay aside your old view of life, stay far from various traps, let God take charge of your life and make arrangements for you; it is to try only to submit to God’s orchestrations and guidance, to live without individual choice, and to become a person who worships God” (The Word, Vol. 2. On Knowing God. God Himself, the Unique III).
God’s words point out a path for us. When we are mired in the vortex of material wealth and cannot extricate ourselves, living in such pain, it’s because we’ve been so deeply corrupted by Satan and have been steeped in fallacious laws of survival such as: “Money is first,” and “Money isn’t everything, but without it, you can do nothing.” We’ve been deluded and corrupted by these erroneous perspectives and treat money as the thing most worthy of pursuit, as the proper goal for our lives. We scheme, we scramble, we rack our brains to make more money. We expend all of our energy and as a result, we grow farther and farther from God, the deepest recesses of our souls grow ever-more empty, and we live in suffering and pain. Clearly, this is brought about because, after being corrupted by Satan, we establish the wrong outlook on life and values. But once we’ve seen through how Satan corrupts us, we become able to truly cast aside those mistaken views and no longer make money and fame our only pursuits. This is the only way we can live peacefully and at ease. The truth is that it is God who determines how much money and how many possessions each person can accumulate. Our own struggles, our own scrambling cannot change that. As long as we return before God, accept His salvation, give everything we have over to God and look to Him, obeying His rule and arrangements, we will then be able to escape from the emptiness and pain of human life, gaining true peace and happiness.
It’s recorded in the Bible that Job was an entirely upright man who feared God and shunned evil. He was very wealthy and was the greatest of all men of the east at the time, but in the course of Satan’s temptation and testing of him, all of his possessions were taken by robbers, his children perished in a calamity, and he himself was covered in incredibly painful boils from head to toe. However, he never blamed God. Instead, he submitted to God’s rule and arrangements, prostrating himself before God in prayer: “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: Jehovah gave, and Jehovah has taken away; blessed be the name of Jehovah” (Job 1: 21). Job possessed a heart of reverence for God, so he believed that people’s material wealth wasn’t something they had gained through their own hard work, but was determined by God’s rule. So whether God gave, or whether God took away, he was entirely willing to submit to God and would not blame Him. Job did not seek to obtain more possessions; rather, he sought to achieve genuine reverence for and submission to God. This allowed Job to stand witness for God and thoroughly shame Satan, giving all glory to God. God then commended Job with even greater wealth and an extremely long life, as well as the most beautiful children in the world. He also spoke to Job out of a storm so he could gain an even deeper understanding of God. Job was not left with any regrets in life; he died full of days. We can see from Job’s testimony for God that the human pursuit of wealth is devoid of meaning, that only by seeking knowledge of God, submitting to God’s rule and arrangements, and fearing God and shunning evil for a lifetime can we live within God’s care and protection, and achieve true happiness, release, and freedom. This is the only kind of life that has true value and meaning.