You Really Can’t Take It With You

According to that redoubtable source of all wisdom and truth, Wikipedia, the Kaufman-Hart Play, You Can’t Take It With You, debuted on Broadway in 1936, ran for 838 performances, and won a Pulitzer. The 1938 film, starring James Stewart and Jean Arthur, won academy awards for Best Picture and Best Director. The probability is that anyone who was ever in the drama club at school at least knows one person who had a part in their school’s production of the play. In it we watch as the scion of a wealthy family falls in love with the daughter from a quirky family, who owns a house that is in the way of a big company’s plans for expansion. In the end, the wealthy clan learns that there is more to life than wealth, power, and acquisition. The outcome is as predictable as the story is charming. Arthur and Stewart make a great team, and no one was better at playing bewilderment than Stewart. The moral of the story is in the title.

Readers of Ecclesiastes, however, already know something of the truth that you can’t take it with you: “As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand” (Eccl 5:15). I have been thinking about that reality lately. At the end of February, my mother died; and afterward, as people do, we sorted through her belongings before the memorial. Some went to the family. Some of it went to the thrift store and to friends. She lived in a two-bedroom apartment, but it was remarkable how much she left behind. It is remarkable how much we all have. Mom was a self-taught writer and painter. In the last years of her life, she was devoted to her painting. We have three of her paintings in our house. She was not much of a photographer (she had a tendency to cut off people’s heads) but she was a great keeper of photos, both digital and printed. Inheriting some of them was a gift. She was the last living link in our family to a world that no longer exists. Those photos are a window into that lost world.

Mom was a Kansas farm girl born during the Great Depression, in the Dust Bowl. Grandpa was a wheat farmer and cattle rancher, who, during the Depression tried running a gas station in town—the family lore was that Grandpa was too generous to those fleeing the Dust Bowl and gave away too much gas and lost the business. Mom was a voracious reader. She took two library books with her on her last trip to the hospital. She was more than a reader. In her adult life, she worked for the Lincoln Council on Alcohol and Drugs and later started and ran two businesses. In her senior years she taught driving courses for other seniors—which I always found ironic since she had a bit of a lead foot. To her credit, however, when she could no longer drive, she gave up her keys without much of a fight.

At heart Mom was a creative. In the days after her death, there was all the sorting: paintings (and supplies), clothing, books, furniture, and photos (as I said, Mom’s apartment was deceptively full). In its way it is a testimony to a full life. So, here we are. Mom is gone and her belongings are dispersed. All we have left are some photos and memories. Once she was gone her stuff did not matter that much anymore. It was Mom that gave meaning to her stuff.

Our Lord spoke to this:

And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?” (Luke 12:22–26)

A certain accumulation of stuff is necessary—our Lord knew that—but life really is more than the stuff we accumulate. It is not our stuff that gives meaning to life. When this life ends what matters is how one has reckoned with eternity. The danger to our souls is not so much the stuff as it is our coveting the stuff or finding our value in the stuff.

And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:15–21)

“Fool! This night your soul is required of you” is one of the most sobering lines in all of Scripture. The rich man was a fool because he trusted in his wealth, but in death, wealth deserts us all. It can delay death but it cannot defeat it.

There is one, however, who can and who has defeated death. His name is Jesus of Nazareth. He is God in the flesh. Christians call him the God-Man. He took on human nature, suffered with and for sinners, obeyed in the place of sinners, tasted death (Heb 2:9), sanctified the grave for those who believe, and was raised on the third day. He has defeated death. He sat up in the tomb and calmly folded his grave linens (John 20:7). The apostle Paul quotes Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14 when he declares, “‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’” (1 Cor 15:54–55).

As I write, it is the sixth day after Easter, or as the earliest Christians called it, Pascha. Forty days after he was raised, he ascended visibly to the right hand of the Father (John 16:10; Acts 1:9). He is presently exercising his priestly ministry for all his elect (Heb 6:20). He shall return visible to judge the living and the dead (Titus 2:13; Matt 24:37; 1 Cor 15:28; Rev 2:4; 1 Pet 4:5). Now and forever God regards those who are united to Christ by grace alone, through faith as though they had fulfilled all righteousness themselves. They have been saved now and forever from the wrath to come (Eph 2:8–9).

The apostle Peter wrote to suffering Christians in what today is known as Turkey. He encouraged those Christians by reminding them that though they have little in this life, God has given them all things pertaining to life and piety. He has given us knowledge of the God who called us, precious and great promises, and even made us, as it were, partakers of the divine nature—by his Holy Spirit he is conforming us to the image of Christ (2 Pet 1:3–4). All these things, Peter explains, have been given to those who have “escaped the corruption that is in this world” (v. 4; NASB).

We can’t take it with us but, in Christ, by the grace of God, we no longer want to take it with us. We want to be where Christ is, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3).

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.


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  1. Thank you for writing and posting this.

    I pray the Lord comforts you and your family with the sure hope of the gospel amid your mother’s recent passing.

    As a man still only in my early thirties, with a few health issues that are making me reckon with the undeniability of my frailty, and with a small immediate family to care for, I find myself longing more and more for the world to come and praying to make the best use of the time the Lord gives me on earth because I know, and am becoming intimately more aware, that my time here will be but a vapor.

    May Christ be pleased to help us persevere, live for, and look to Him through each trial and joy we experience under the sun as we pilgrimage in this world until He brings us home to Himself and the saints that have gone before us in glory:

    12 So teach us to number our days
    that we may get a heart of wisdom.
    13 Return, O LORD! How long?
    Have pity on your servants!
    14  Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
    that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
    15  Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
    and for as many years as we have seen evil.
    16 Let your work be shown to your servants,
    and your glorious power to their children.
    17  Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
    and establish the work of our hands upon us;
    yes, establish the work of our hands!

    Psalm 90:12-17 ESV

  2. “He sat up in the tomb and calmly folded his grave linens” – Dr Clark, are you sure this is something that a man even a gloriously resurrected Man can do sitting down? I’d have thought that, at least to start with, it would have been desirable to have an angel standing with Him to fold the other end …
    That is, if they were even folded: The KJV uses the prhase “wrapped together” for the napkin that had been wrapped around His head, and nothing at all about folding or wrapping for the rest – I would have thought He’d have left them as is, as a sign to the witnesses. But who knows?

  3. So very sorry for your loss.
    But what a wonderful lady she must have been.
    And what skill weaving a famous story, broadway play & movie to Ecclesiastes, to your beloved mother.
    Thank you for the reminder we’re entirely dependent on the grace and mercy of our great God and savior Jesus Christ.

  4. Any chance that you could take pics of some of her paintings and post them on some website? I’d like to see her work. What media did she use to paint – watercolor, oil, etc?

  5. This is a wonderful tribute to your mother and a good reminder for us to not place great importance on possessions. Leaving a legacy of love and selflessness like your mother has is something we can all try to do. May the good Lord bless you and your family. Thank you so much for sharing this; I am taking your words to heart. 🙂

  6. Sorry to hear about your Mom.

    Our pastor is working through Ecclesiastes now. It struck me that the end of first Corinthians 15 is an answer to the worldling’s dilemma, that nothing one does lasts. “Therefore beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

    (Similar thing said in Revelation somewhere, about the deeds of the dead in the Lord following them.)

    • Hi, Lee.

      While I’m certain you won’t catch Dr. Clark singing this one in public worship, I nevertheless think he would agree with, and most likely appreciate, Newton’s poetic capture of what you’re describing here seen in the hymn, “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken:”

      “…Fading is the worldling’s pleasures,
      all his boasted pomp and show;
      solid joys and lasting treasures
      none but Zion’s children know.”

      See also Psalms 16, 73, and even 90 for inspired songs that I think capture this great reality you note as well (except this time, infallibly 🙂).


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