Monday, November 4, 2019

Ecclesiastes 6-8: A House of Mourning

"It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart" (Ecclesiastes 7:2).

The first three chapters of Ecclesiastes lay out the foundational perspectives of the book: meaningless life perceived “under the sun” versus purposeful life perceived “under heaven.” The rest of the book illustrates and amplifies these two perspectives.

One of the most pervasive characteristics of human life is suffering. Virtually all pagan religions and philosophies try to reject or ignore the fact of suffering. Hinduism and Buddhism treat it as unimportant or even as an illusion. Stoicism, as we have seen, tries to ignore suffering. Epicureanism tries to bury it in pleasure. Political philosophies try to alleviate it. Modern existentialism tells us to embrace death in a form of psychological suicide. But only biblical religion faces pain and suffering squarely.

The Teacher tells us that it is better to spend time in the house of mourning than in the house of mirth. This is because death comes to all men, and it comes to us in many forms. Not only will we all eventually die physically, but we experience a form of death when we lose loved ones, when our dreams die, when we fall into horrible diseases, when we lose our jobs, and when we experience social disruptions and church splits. As we noted when we looked at Leviticus several months ago, the Old Testament symbolized this pervasiveness of death by making many aspects of life ceremonially “unclean,” which meant symbolically dead.

Romans 5:14 tells us that death reigns under the sun. Jesus Himself was known as a “man of sorrows,” and while the Bible tells us that Jesus wept at Lazarus’ tomb and wept over Jerusalem, it never tells us that He laughed (though doubtless He did).

Too much of modern Christianity partakes of this attempt to deny death. We often hear a kind of “prosperity gospel” preached over radio and television. Disagreeable subjects like sickness, suffering, and death should be avoided if we want church growth. We don’t sing the psalms, but instead, sing songs full of superficial happiness. The Teacher invites us to take the reality of life more seriously than we often do.

Certainly the Bible teaches that we are to be joyful, and we are not to cultivate a long-faced outlook on life. But our joy is to be realistic, not artificial. The perspective of life “under heaven” enables us to face death squarely as the last enemy and fight it through prayer and good deeds. What are the lessons you have learned by approaching the subject of death in a biblical fashion?