Yesterday a friend, Paul, and I went sailing on Buckeye Lake in my little 17 foot-long sailboat. Some boats are made for speed, with deep v-shaped hulls and big motors. Other boats, like my sailboat, are made to move easily through the water with as little propulsive energy needed as possible. But this trade-off involves the reality that these “efficient” watercraft do not do well at high speeds…they are made to go slow. Even so, Paul and I were very intent on trying to get my boat to go at its maximum hull speed (the speed up to which the boat is stable) which, for this particular model, is 5 knots, or 5.8 miles per hour. If you click on the photo and watch the video you will see, in one shot which shows the screen of the depthfinder/speed/heading instrument, that we do hit 5.0 knots for a brief second or two (look in the lower right corner of the instrument screen). Even though 5 knots is not a relatively fast speed, we were very proud of ourselves! But…why?
I recently read an article about the philosophical underpinnings of why people sail. In the article the author quotes a well-known jibe that defines sailing as “the art of going slowly nowhere, at great expense and personal discomfort.” In exploring the “going slowly” aspect of the quote, the author points out that the need for speed is overrated. People who are weekend recreational boaters most often start and end their boating adventure at their dock or at a boat ramp where they put their boat in the water, and then take it out of the water at the end of their day of boating. So, the difference between their starting point and the ending point is zero. By definition, the average velocity of a given time interval is the difference in distance between the starting and ending point of a trip divided by the time it took to get there. The author explains:
By this reckoning, all weekend cruisers, whether laid-back sailors or high-speed motorboaters, have the same average velocity – namely zero! This is because they tend to end up right where they started – in their marina slip or on the boat trailer from which their vessel was launched. In other words, the total distance between start and finish is zero. And zero divided by any number of elapsed hours yields zero velocity.
~ Sebastian Kuhn, Physicist, Old Dominion University
So, why the need for speed? Isn’t this discussion a metaphor for life? We all seem to be so rushed with life and events going 1,000 miles per hour. And, most of the time, the rush is in an effort to earn money so we can get more things. But another oft-quoted quip reminds us, regarding all this “stuff” we accumulate “we can’t take it with us when we die.” One of the wisest men who ever lived, Solomon, reflects on this very concept of how life often seems to go nowhere for no real purpose:
What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.
All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
(Ecclesiastes 1:2-9, ESV)
Solomon continues through the entire book of Ecclesiastes with themes similar to the above. But in the last two verses of the book, Solomon offers his final insights and recommendations in the light of our vain predicament:
Here is my final conclusion: fear God and obey his commandments, for this is the entire duty of man. For God will judge us for everything we do, including every hidden thing, good or bad.
(Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, TLB)
It would be a shame to come to the end of our lives only to find out that we spent a lot of time and energy to go nowhere, very fast. If Solomon was right (and he probably is since his wisdom was God-inspired) we would do best to focus on things that matter to God. I doubt, when we are standing in the place of final judgment before God, if He will be impressed with whether we had the newest model car, or the most beautifully appointed home, or whether we hit the maximum hull speeds in our sailboats. Instead, He will search our hearts to find if there was/is a deep respect for His ways and purposes mixed with a fervent desire to please Him because, as Solomon reminds us “this is the whole duty of man.”