I’m in Venice – where famous Venetian merchant Marco Polo launched his explorations to Asia along the Silk Road between 1271 and 1295.
Venice is bursting with reminders of past life that match Florence with its fascinating historic features, including the remarkable Ponte Vecchio. I found walking over this oldest standing bridge in Florence was surreal. Built during ancient Roman times and referred to in a document written during the 10th century, it still seems robust enough today.
Although shops and dwellings seem to cantilever precariously from the bridge’s extremities, the eclectic range of ‘add-ons’, remarkably, appear fit for business still.
The opportunity to experience places with lots of ancient history attached to them such as castle ruins, forts and archaeological digs has been amazing. Seeing the unearthing of ‘stories’ literally buried by layers of generations, each superseding on the previous one is fascinating. I’ve walked on pathways that date to the third century, wandered around buildings that are centuries old, still delivering purpose in measure that their designers and builders intended centuries ago.
There’s something I want to share that occurs to me consistently in all these experiences. Human beings live out their comparatively brief lives and after they’ve gone, for some, their work ‘lives’ beyond them. Painters and artists have left incredibly vibrant creations filled with pathos which continue to be admired a thousand years after their departure from earth. A few days ago, I saw a large collection of beautiful stringed musical instruments that craftsmen had skilfully shaped in the 1600’s – today these instruments render unsurpassed tonal richness.
The span of human history is like a collage… people on earth living their lives out with varying degrees of aspiration, purpose and ambition. Many have grasped at fame, wealth, power and prestige. Many have lived in obscurity and poverty. Yet one thing is common to all – that is, life ends… and you take nothing with you. Death is the great leveller. The ancient Egyptians tried to defy this by heaping around them things deemed useful for their ‘after-life.’ However, nobody gets to take anything material with them.
The sense of life’s brevity ought to give pause for reflection within us – James, a Bible writer described our mortal life as a ‘vapour’… a puff of steam that comes and disappears. Life misses its point entirely unless it’s lived out in a relationship with God, made possible through Jesus Christ, the Saviour we all need. Right here is the fundamental purpose that every human being was designed to engage with. A very old statement succinctly says, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
To spend one’s life heaping up stuff, striving for power, prestige, control, status, possessions, or reputation is all meaningless vanity when it distracts us from getting right, that one central reason for living – a right relationship with God… and being prepared for the reality of life beyond death.
We do well to consider carefully, Jesus’ sobering reminder about exchanging our soul for temporal pursuits.
“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?