But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him. It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath. This is [a miserable business] in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 9:1-6
Last week I saw a satirical graphic of a famous illustration of John Calvin with the caption: “Calvinism: Some Lives Matter.” Of course, that’s a caricature invented by those who’ve never read Calvin, because if they had, they’d know he didn’t think that at all. Still, it caught my attention. Then, within the same hour, I read the passage above, which seems to lean toward “No lives matter.” After all, Solomon says that there is no distinction between “the righteous and the wicked, the good and the evil, the clean and the unclean, him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice.” “As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath. This is [a miserable business] in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all.” While this is a basis for understanding our need to trust in God, it is not just a little bit disconcerting!
But here’s the truth of it: the future is uncontrollable and even unknowable. Everyone dies. It is universally experienced. That’s what Solomon is saying; therefore, this is a call to faith. And it is a call largely absent in the present era. Some of the most popular churches are built on their proclamation that prosperity is a sign of God’s favor, and we have the power to make that happen (or at least make God make it happen). Solomon is saying that the wise learn that we have no such powers and our level of prosperity, including the number of our days, does not tell us anything about what God thinks of us!
“Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him.” In other words, you can’t discern God’s love or hatred from the outward circumstances of one’s life. Doesn’t everybody die? Experience cannot decide: health or sickness, wealth or poverty, life or death.
“For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.” The Apostle Paul agrees in Ephesians 5: “…[make] the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” The advantage the living have is that they know they are going to die. It is wisdom to know that; it is vaporous to try to live as though it isn’t true.
And Jesus, the wisdom of God, shines like the sun on this subject. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” He knows that death is coming for everyone, therefore, believe in the only one who will bring life after death. Stop wasting the few days you have striving for an advantage that you can never have. Everyone dies; some live forever. That’s wisdom, and that’s the gospel.
Come hear it preached and enacted in the supper with Jesus this Sunday.