You might have noticed that we skipped an entire chapter and some change. I mentioned this before: This isn’t a commentary, it’s a devotional. We aren’t going to study every single verse of Ecclesiastes, just some major themes of the book. And here we come to one of the stranger passages in the Bible. In fact, Solomon’s last work probably has some of the lion’s share of strange verses in the Bible. But it’s all God’s word, so it’s all useful to us.
One of my best friends in college was named Chris, and he was a pretty melancholy guy. Not that he never smiled or cracked a joke, but both of those were rarities for him. He wrote some songs, most of them focusing on the darker aspects of human existence. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that Ecclesiastes was his favorite book of the Bible. In fact, he specifically pointed to today’s passage as justification for his personality quirks.
But if you know anything about the rest of the Bible, you might have some problems reconciling this with the rest of Scripture. I don’t think that you can file all of this under the “materialistic viewpoint” excuse that we’ve seen elsewhere. I don’t think he’s purposefully leaving God out of this passage. In fact, I really think that this has something to say to us as believers today.
How can I say that? We know that the Name-It-And-Claim crowd--which claims that a Christian’s life should be filled with nothing but smiles and happiness--is way off the mark (or at least we should know). But isn’t joy a fruit of the Holy Spirit? The Gospel of Jesus Christ is Good News (literally—that’s what the word “Gospel” means). Does the Lord want us to be miserable? Is it really better to go to a funeral than to a party? Is God against fun?
Hopefully you know our Father better than that. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, and the message that we proclaim is the Good News. But today’s verses remind us to keep things in perspective. Life for the believer is not all smiles. Solomon has to say some things to the world today, both to nonbelievers and believers.
First for the nonbeliever, those who haven’t surrendered to God’s way: You’re going to die. The death rate nowadays is 100%, and that’s not going to change for the foreseeable future. For all the violence in our entertainment, this is a culture which is scared to death of death. We anesthetize it so much. We go to nursing homes and hospitals just as rarely as we can get away with it. We make sure that the corpse in the casket is as “lifelike” as possible. We love to go to parties, partially so that we can—for a little while—push aside the reality of our fate. But Solomon tells us that going to a funeral is much more spiritually healthy. As much as we try to deny it, consciously or not, that’s going to be us in that box someday. And after that. . . what? Not something the non-Christian would like to think about, huh?
And for the believer, it’s still a sobering message. Yes, we have our eternal home to look forward to. Of all truths in the universe, there’s nothing more applicable than this one: “The end of a matter is better than its beginning.” And that’s particularly true for every child of God. Like the stereotypical used-car salesman, Satan offers his “best” up front and you only find out about the “fine print” at a later time. But God is exactly the opposite: He saves his best for last. The world he created at the beginning was a marvel to behold. It was exactly what he meant it to be, for that time. But he’s building a home for you and me which will make that world look like a homeless guy’s cardboard box by comparison.
So how is today’s passage sobering for us? Because we have a very limited time in this life. We only have a short time to serve him before our hour is up. We only have a short time to tell people about Christ. We only have a short time to influence others towards our Lord and leave a lasting legacy of godliness and love. Our Savior told us that “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.” And there’s nothing like a funeral for a gentle reminder of that, is there?
Lord Jesus, thank you for this reminder. I know that serving you includes rest and relaxation. But maybe I’ve learned that part a little too well, and I need to be more active. Night is coming, isn’t it?