The movie Collateral Beauty tells the story of how a man attempts to cope with the death of a loved one by writing letters to time, death, and love. The introspection required in writing such letters might indeed prove beneficial as an exercise, and interacting with others in difficult circumstances can provide an important perspective, but in Psalm 49 the sons of Korah call for a deeper and more thoughtful reflection than this. Beginning by calling attention to the universality of death, the psalm challenges the reader to consider not only the death of a loved one but the reality of his own approaching death as well (Psa. 49:1-4). However, rather than devolving into a depressing acceptance of this reality, the psalm asserts death as the great equalizer. While life upon this earth presents numerous opportunities for someone to distinguish himself from others through wealth, knowledge, or simply fame, none of these prevent the simple reality of death (Psa. 49:5-9). Thus, while men spend lifetimes building fortunes and reputations, this is built on the underlying lie that this will last. Some people may be remembered in history, some may receive their fifteen minutes of fame, and some may have landmarks named after them, but none of this will mean a thing once they pass away—not to them (Psa. 49:10-13). Therefore, regardless of what we may accomplish, how many friends we may have, or what we may own, this body will wear out, die, and decay (Psa. 49:14). However, the power and focus of the psalm becomes clear in this powerful statement of faith: “But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, For He shall receive me. Selah” (Psa. 49:15). Failing to live for this moment, for this purpose, and for this hope is the real tragedy of life (Psa. 49:16-20).
The various success stories that people can enjoy in this life, whether economic, intellectual, or purely familial, are but poor imitations of the greatest success of which we are capable and for which we were created. It is amazing to see how much time and energy people can throw into a project, a business, or really any enterprise when they really believe in it and can visualize how it will benefit them in the long run. I am privileged to know people who have succeeded in amazing ways in building a business, serving in government, contributing meaningfully in academia, and making a difference in people’s lives. Nevertheless, no matter how much I can appreciate their impact on this world and in society, there is something more to life than just these things. Your life ultimately will be defined—not by what accomplishments you can claim in life or what your resume looks like—but by how you lived morally and spiritually and whether your soul will be redeemed from the power of the grave to be received by God. Therefore, the words we should live for are not “Good job” as someone compliments our success but “Well done” when God welcomes the faithful home.