To me one of the primary needs in life is for recognition. I think we all have some sense of the brevity and futility of life if we bother to think about it at all. Even those deemed famous in their day are quickly forgotten (Ozymandias). None of us will be on the face of the earth 100 years from now and who will remember us? Who amongst us remembers those who were here 100 years ago?
I think this longing to be remembered, to leave a mark, leads some to pursue fame. You want to be the best in your field, to be an author, a movie star, a rock star, a politician, and so on. If you have any chance of leaving a mark on this fickle world, you have to burn brightly before you fade out and are extinguished. But this leaves hordes of us in obscurity, unknown in our own age and forgotten shortly after we die. Perhaps this sense of futility is what drives some to love reality TV – we each have a minuscule chance of fleeting ‘fame’ if we are on TV or some similar medium.
I think this desire to be remembered is a right and natural desire, but that the ends we pursue to fulfill it are skewed by our lack of an eternal perspective. There is One who remembers all of us, from the least to the greatest. The Triune God will recall your labors, your joys, pains and achievements whether you are a slave or a CEO, a fisherman or an accountant. Nothing we do in this life is forgotten and we will someday stand before God fully remembered. The toil and drudgery, the quest for meaning – all of this finds its fulfillment in the mind of the all-knowing God.
This should free us to cease striving. There is no need to expend vast amounts of energy trying to defy the river of time which sweeps all away into the sea of forgetfulness. It is better to spend our lives in God’s service in whatever vocation and state of life we find ourselves in or obtain to. Poverty and obscurity may be our destiny in this brief life, but when the new heavens and the new earth arrive we will find our true inheritance. We can seek to be remembered by God and seek fame in His kingdom by expending ourselves for His purposes, rather than to leave a mark in history books. To believe this is to take a risk, to fly in the face of received wisdom and truly believe that the next life matters more and that we will be there soon. It is a risk worth taking, and those of us who follow Jesus must take it.