The simple fact of the matter is that we all have been cursed. The ramifications of this curse, we do not fully comprehend.
For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the One who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
After man was expelled from the garden of Eden, the Bible says God cursed the world and mankind. The passage above tells us that all of creation was subjected to frustration and decay and is waiting for the day of its liberation. The curse is often referred to as futility, but more specifically, the curse is a curse of decay, a curse of things fading away into oblivion. Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher, said it plainly this way:
Decay is the material substance of all things
He said further:
Soon, very soon, you will be ashes or a skeleton, a name or not even a name; and what is a name but sound and echo? And the things much valued in life are empty and rotten and trifling.
And again he says:
Everywhere up and down you will find the same things with which histories are filled… There is nothing new; all things are familiar and quickly over.
Because things fade away and decay, everything ultimately becomes meaningless in the grand scheme. This is the curse of decay, not just the decay of physical things like buildings and shorelines, but the decay of passions, loves and joys. The ancient Greeks understood this fully, which is why they declared that the only thing in life worth doing were deeds so great, that they would be remembered throughout the halls of time and never be forgotten. But even this proves ultimately to be futile.
Solomon had a more poetic way of describing the curse. In Ecclesiastes 3:10 he begins by saying:
I have seen the burden God has laid on men
That’s a very provocative statement, and he goes on to say something very interesting, something we wouldn’t expect. He goes on to say:
I have seen the burden God has laid on men:
He has made everything beautiful in its time
That doesn’t seem to logically follow. How can ‘making things beautiful’ be the burden God has laid on men? The key is in the last phrase ‘in its time.’ This refers to the curse of decay. What Solomon is saying is that the true burden of mankind is that things fade away, beautiful things that were meant to last. They only have their time and then they’re gone forever.
The poem, Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley is one of the most powerful descriptions of the curse of decay. In the poem, the poet is told of a statue that stands in a desert, whose upper half is broken off and sunk halfway in the sand, only his legs remaining intact. The sands surround the broken statue as far as the eye can see. The inscription on the base of the statue was meant to boast of a once great empire. But in the end, the message becomes a haunting description of the power of decay.
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
The curse of decay has haunted mankind for eons. Poets have written of it, philosophers have lamented it, and all mankind has felt the weight of it. But as Solomon noted, it isn’t so much the decay of the physical that haunts the heart, but the decay of beauty and meaning and the resolve to live life to the full.
It’s impossible to conceive of what our universe would be like without the law of decay in effect, because everything draws its function from it. The decay of energy powers our sun and emits the heat which warms our world.
But this law of decay is contrary to God’s original intention for His creation. We know this because Paul claimed that all creation is groaning as it waits for its liberation from bondage to decay. But not only that, in the Psalms David spoke ahead of the death and resurrection of Jesus, saying:
You will not abandon me to the grave
Nor will You let Your Holy One see decay.
There is a devious sadness to the world in which we live – a sadness that comes in rare moments, when we’re all alone under the canopy of a million stars, or listening to a moving song about a love that lasts forever. A solemn knowledge arises within us that tells us we ought to have been better – that our resolve to live life to the full should burn without fail and should always overcome the groping temptation to settle for the good enough ever in our reach. As the poet Matthew Arnold has written:
Light flows our war of mocking words, and yet,
Behold, with tears mine eyes are wet!
I feel a nameless sadness o’er me roll.
Yes, yes, we know that we can jest,
We know, we know that we can smile!
But there’s a something in this breast,
To which thy light words bring no rest…
But often, in the world’s most crowded streets,
But often, in the din of strife,
There rises an unspeakable desire
After the knowledge of our buried life;
A thirst to spend our fire and restless force
In tracking out our true, original course.
A longing to inquire
Into the mystery of this heart which beats
So wild so deep in us – to know
Whence our lives come and where they go.
There is a knowledge buried in our hearts, a nameless sadness that knows that beauty and meaning were made to endure. The last portion of Solomon’s verse speaks to this as well:
I have seen the burden God has laid on men:
He has made everything beautiful in its time;
He has also set eternity in the hearts of men.
God has set something within our hearts that speaks to a different kind of life. But it isn’t exactly what you would think. The word ‘eternity’ here can be more accurately translated ‘world without end’. In the original King James translation, this passage reads:
I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.
He hath made every thing beautiful in his time:
Also he hath set the world in their heart.
The Bible translators have had a hard time accurately translating ‘world without end’ and so at times, they translated it ‘eternity’ and at other times ‘world.’ But God has set the ‘world without end’ in our hearts, or rather, a world without decay. Our hearts understand a world without end, a world where the true good endures – a world without futility, and it causes a nameless longing to arise at times, convincing us that life was meant to be something more. CS Lewis said this:
If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was meant for another world.
But if I could be so bold, I would reword the quote to say something a little different:
If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, then perhaps the world itself was meant to be different.
You see this indefinable longing often in poetic works. Soren Kierkegaard spoke of it this way:
When the wanderer comes away from the much-traveled noisy highway into places of quiet, then it seems to him as if he must examine himself, as if he must speak out what lies hidden in the depths of his soul. It seems to him, according to the poets’ explanation, as if something inexpressible thrusts itself forward from his innermost being, the unspeakable, for which indeed language has no vessel of expression. Even the longing is not the unspeakable itself. It is only the hastening after it.
And from the poet John Greenleaf Whittier:
But when she glanced to the far-off town,
White from its hill-slope looking down,
The sweet song died, and a vague unrest
And a nameless longing filled her breast.
And from the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of night,
As a feather is wafted downward
From an eagle in flight.
I see the lights of the village
Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o’er me
That my soul cannot resist.
A feeling of sadness and longing,
That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
As the mist resembles the rain…
This indefinable longing for a world without end is deep seated in our hearts, a world where beautiful things endure, and the fire of love and passion never goes out. If this is the case, then why has God subjected His creation to the bondage of decay? Very simply, I believe, because of tragedy. Decay is the only thing that makes tragedy on this planet bearable. It’s not only beautiful things that fade away, it’s the intensity of tragedy that also fades. When the potential for evil entered our world, decay was a necessary mercy. As the old adage goes: Time heals all ills.
Something was needed that would lessen the effect of beauty and meaning in life. Otherwise, those who had suffered tragedy would never recover. Decay is the gift of God to the suffering, so that the pain of tragedy will lessen in intensity over time. But to the rest of us, decay is the curse which slowly strips away our passion and zeal and leaves us only with a dull longing for something more, something indescribable.
The Famine of the Human Dream
Within the heart has been ordained
A notion of the unexplained;
A heart which longs to be set free
In its abandoned destiny;
But lives and wastes its precious years
And seldom sees ‘untrodden spheres!’
For man, his heart hath long been wrecked
And swapped for simple intellect;
‘Twas shattered upon a rock of sin,
Ever now to dwell within;
And floating the sea on scattered planks,
It seldom sees once destined banks;
Now e’remore wandering to and fro
Atop the ocean current flow.
Though tries the heart in vain to say
The meaning of this fatal stray
And seeks with all to take away
The ever present slow decay,
Still never able to convey
Those feelings that will never stay.
In vain we seek to find our fate
In a world we overestimate;
In vain we seek to make things last
In a world where all becomes the past.
But man still prospers in his time
Though ponders not his hidden crime;
And kills the passions of the day,
Trading life for meager pay.
But a secret something lives within,
That seeks to show the stains of sin,
That seeks to cure the mundane soul,
And give it life lived to the full.
The famine of the human dream
Still carries this subterranean stream
And we must dig deep down below,
Though deeper now we have to go;
For we have covered the ground above
With futile acts and not with love;
And we have seen our ancient fate
Yet lived the lives we all should hate.
The stream shall come though, do not fret,
Shall find you when your eyes are wet;
Shall find you seldom, this is true,
But oh! to see that marvelous view!
Yet we heed not such reckless words,
Since not oft have we seen or heard,
The heights from which the bell once rung,
And the song all know, which none have sung.