Beyond the Vanity of Earthly Greatness


Arthur Guiterman, Poet 1871-1943

Arthur Guiterman, Poet

In 1930, Arthur Guiterman penned a poem titled, “On the Vanity of Earthly Greatness.” It reads,

The tusks that clashed in mighty brawls
Of mastodons, are billiard balls.

The sword of Charlemagne the Just
Is ferric oxide known as rust.

The grizzly bear whose potent hug
Was feared by all, is now a rug.

Great Ceasar’s bust is on the shelf,
And I don’t feel so well myself!

These words bear similar thought to King Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes written some three thousand years ago. When the rich and famous King Solomon reflected upon his wisdom, wealth, and many wives, he concluded, “Vanity of vanities, said the Preacher. Vanity of vanities; all is vanity,” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).

Ironical, isn’t it? That a man of that much power and wealth would say that all these symbols are, in essence, useless. It takes us back to Guiterman’s list of vanities and the futility of earthly greatness: The tusks of a mighty Mastodon that end up being billiard balls, flourishing swords that end up as rusted relics, ferocious grizzly bears turned into rugs that humans trample on, and a fearless leader like Ceasar whose bust gathers dust on someone’s desk or mantle. Even Guiterman, poet of wit and humor, soberly confessed the shortcomings of his own health.

Both Guiterman and Solomon illustrate the same truth. The wise King Solomon keenly observed that earthly things like houses, vineyards, gardens, and priceless treasures fall short of providing lasting happiness in this present, mortal life (See Ecclesiastes 2:1-11). On the same token, the renowned poet describes how tusks, swords, grizzly bears, Caesar, and even he would lose their quality and life in due time.

So much for greatness. It is only temporary. We’re reminded of the fact that when you die “you can’t take it with you.” As they say, no one ever sees a hearse pulling a U-haul. That’s reality.

But lest we sound too fatalistic, there is the other side of the proverbial coin. The same Solomon who said, “All is vanity,” also spoke of some things with lasting value such as the earth (Eccl. 1:4) and time (Eccl. 3:1-8). Moreover, although it’s true that houses, vineyards, gardens, and priceless treasures have been torn apart, burned down, dug up, and taken away, the earth has never ceased to remain filled with them. As for the animals, objects, and kings of the past, we at least have archeological evidence, written records, and spoken legends to keep them alive in our minds.

Lasting greatness is also seen in the Biblical concept of God and time. Divinely inspired writers of sacred scriptures have recorded the permanency of the earth, life after death at resurrection time, God’s eternal nature, and the everlasting age to come. Solomon’s father, David, declared that God “laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed forever,” (Psalm 104:5). In Genesis 8:22, God promised to Noah after the great flood that the seasons “shall not cease.” So, some things do have or will have lasting value.

This is particularly true concerning the hope of someday receiving immortality. The Bible promises that immortality (never able to die again) and incorruption (perfect in body, mind and spirit) will be given to those who are faithful in Christ. Such hope has been kept alive by believers from one generation to the next:

  • 1 Peter 1:3-5 has caused us to be born again to a living hope
  • Job 19:26 yet from my flesh I shall see God
  • Psa. 17:15 I will be satisfied with thy likeness when I awake
  • 1 John 5:11 God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son
  • 1 Corinthians 15:51-55 the dead will be raised imperishable and we shall be changed

Almighty God is described as “everlasting” and “eternal” meaning that God has existed forever as much in the past as he will exist forever in the future:

  • Psa. 90:1-2 from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God
  • Isaiah 40:8 the word of our God stands forever
  • Isa. 57:15 the high and exalted One who lives forever
  • 1 Timothy 1:17 now to the King eternal
  • Rev. 21:6 I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end

The Bible also predicts an eternal age on this earth restored when there will be perfect justice, beauty, harmony, and peace forevermore:

  • 2 Pet. 3:13 we are looking for a new heavens and a new earth
  • Micah 4:3-4 never again will they train for war
  • Isaiah 9:7 there will be no end to the increase of his government or peace
  • Isa. 35:1-10 and come with joyful shouting to Zion with everlasting joy

Beyond the vanity of earthly greatness there is much to value for a long time to come. With this thought in mind, I took the liberty of writing a sequel to Guiterman’s poem titled, “Beyond the Vanity of Earthly Greatness,” that goes like this:

The earth with objects rich and rare
And land and sea, are always there.

Eternal life beyond these tears
Will last and last for years and years.

The Father of the earth and sky,
Was never born and will not die.

So time survives the wound-up clock
Passed constant change, and each tick-tock.

Good News to You!
Pastor Michael

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