Recently, I have had the opportunity to meditate upon the idea of leaving a legacy. To be specific, I was looking to find an answer to the question: Why is leaving a legacy so important to men? Most every guy I know, myself included, wants to leave behind something that will be remembered long after we are gone. This is true in our families, in our occupation, and in our personal achievements. Even if we understand that we are not amassing “toys” that we can’t take with us to eternity, we still feel compelled to live in a way that keeps our contribution to the world (or our corner of it) relevant and important for those who will follow behind us.
This idea of a noble legacy is portrayed in the movie Gladiator. The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius is aging and coming face to face with his own mortality. In a conversation with General Maximus, played by Russell Crowe, Aurelius shares his feelings about the importance of the legacy he’s about to leave…
“When a man sees his end… he wants to know there was some purpose to his life. How will the world speak my name in years to come? Will I be known as the philosopher? The warrior? The tyrant…? Or will I be the emperor who gave Rome back her true self?”
Aurelius couldn’t bear the thought that he would go down in history as a man of war. He desired that his memory be one that would impact the people of Rome more positively than any other emperor before him. But why was this so important? After all, once he’s dead and gone he won’t have the power to change, the ability to see what history does to his memory nor will he care. This is especially good for Marcus Aurelius who in the film is later murdered before his plan can take root. But even so, his desire to leave that legacy was so strong it led him to make decisions which ultimately set into motion his demise.
Maybe it’s because we realize that death ends our earthly influence and so we try to maximize our effectiveness while we can. But perhaps there’s another reason why this is so important to us. Leaving a strong legacy is hard wired into men, and that makes sense when you consider how we were made. When God created us in His image, we were designed to be with Him for eternity. However, our sin has corrupted God’s plan – turning what was designed to be permanent into something short lived. And while our bodies are destined to die, something inside of us yearns for something more. So as we search ourselves we quickly discover that in the earthly realm all that can last beyond our deaths is our legacy. And so we strive to be the next Abraham Lincoln or the next Bill Gates. But can that last? Think about it – what percentage of the world’s population actually know about Marcus Aurelius and his accomplishments as the emperor of Rome. Yes we can Google him, but does his legacy really mean anything to you? They often say that people can’t remember who finished #2 in most athletic contests, but the harsh truth is this – in time most people will forget the winner as well.
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them. – Ecclesiastes 1:9-11
So does this mean we should abandon our hope of leaving a legacy and simply live our lives with no eye toward the future? Absolutely not! Instead, we must turn our focus to something that unlike a legacy can in fact live on for eternity. And that one thing can only be found in the love of our Heavenly Father. God is eternal and His love knows no bounds. What’s more, He has known you from the beginning and as Scripture promises us, He will never leave nor forsake you. I can amass a fortune and donate it to charity. I can author hundreds of books. I can run a business or lead a nation. I can do anything humanly possible to leave my mark on society but even being friends with every man, woman, and child on Facebook won’t leave as lasting a mark on this world than a simple act of living a life filled with faith in the One who created it, redeemed it, and renews it daily.
May the Lord of all fill our hearts with peace, love and joy now and forever.