Fame of Celebrities, Fortune of Powerball Winners Are Fleeting

My Facebook feed was a parade of sorrow this week.

The bad news started on Sunday with the death of singer David Bowie. Four days later many of my friends bade farewell to actor Alan Rickman, best known as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies. Then actor Dan Haggerty died, an unexpected blow to me and other fans of Grizzly Adams.

Cancer took the lives of three celebrities in six days, each death triggering another round of reflective news coverage and public laments on social media. And what struck me the most was the brevity of all the attention.

People barely had time to mourn one superstar before another passed. The replays of “Space Oddity” faded as viewers shared Severus Snape’s story, which quickly gave way to musings about Grizzly Adams’ beard. Each outpouring of tributes was posted online one day and forgotten the next.

The trio of celebrity deaths and the rapid pace of remembrances about them left me thinking about the words of King Solomon of Israel in Ecclesiastes 2:

So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil.

Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

Bowie, Rickman and Haggerty became great in their fields, too. They found pleasure in their toil and pleased their fans in the process. But like Solomon, they truly had nothing to gain under the sun. Facebook reminded us that their fame was fleeting.

The same is true of the wealth instantly amassed by last week’s Powerball winners, the other celebrities in the news. Three of them hit the jackpot and will split $1.586 billion, which comes out to $533 million each in 30 annual installments or lump-sum payouts of $328 million.

Even some of the “losers” in the lottery, who only picked five correct numbers, are rich now. Eight players won $2 million, and 73 others won $1 million. The businessmen whose stores sold the jackpot tickets also won $1 million each.

The big winners can afford to buy almost anything their eyes desire, and the lives of the others will be easier if they manage their newfound wealth well. But like Solomon, they will learn that prosperity in this life in short-lived.

That’s why the apostle Paul told his apprentice Timothy to “instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.”

The first Powerball jackpot winners to come forward, John and Lisa Robinson of Munford, Tenn., seem to grasp that truth to some extent. They plan to keep working and living in the same simple house. But they may be the exception to the rule. As Jesus said, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

The rest of us, including those who fell prey to Powerball mania, would do well to remember this appeal in Proverbs 30: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is my portion, that I may not be full and deny You and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or that I not be in want and steal, and profane the name of my God.”