We had a great discussion last night in our small group as we studied Ecclesiastes 6:10-7:23. A major theme of this passage is the wisdom in meditating on death and mourning:
2 It is better to go to the house of mourning
than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
and the living will lay it to heart.
3 Sorrow is better than laughter,
for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
Kinda morbid! These words don’t exactly resonate too well in our self-focused, pleasure-craving culture. In particular, most college students would much rather hide away in the campus bubble, going to parties and having fun, than attend a funeral or experience the pain and heartache that comes with life. It’s natural to avoid pain and seek pleasure; that’s why the prosperity gospel is so popular. One wonders what Joel Osteen would think of this passage — if he ever read it.
In our small group, we even discussed how pain and suffering is presented in popular culture — movies, music, etc. While it is a major theme, suffering is viewed as either a negative thing to be avoided or an unfortunate thing to be overcome. It’s almost never viewed in a positive light as a changing force that teaches and refines us. Yet Solomon here tells us that we should be glad for times of mourning and suffering: “For by sadness of face the heart is made glad” (v. 3).
How can this be? The answer is that death and sorrow brings us to our knees. We realize that “this is the end of all mankind” (v. 2). It’s a sobering truth that causes us to cry out to God Almighty, “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12)! With this perspective, we do not fear suffering. We do not worry that painful or hard times may come upon us, or that death is approaching. Rather, we know and trust that God is good through it all, and that he is doing what is best for us.