Recently, an evangelical pastor wrote an article on death after the loss of a loved one. It’s not important to identify this particular pastor, seeing as he didn’t say anything unusual. His article could just as easily have been written by any number of clergy from any number of denominations. Also, interacting oppositionally with a grieving brother is never our aim. We comfort; we ought not to disturb.
Folks will generally be told, as this pastor says, that ‘death immediately ushers the Christian into the very presence of our Saviour’. The intent of this is understandable. What is a little puzzling is the tendency to call on the book of Ecclesiastes for support.
In his article, our pastor sites Ecclesiastes 2:15-171 which tells us that what happens to the fool will also happen to the wise. The wise die just like the fools do. True. He then suggests that this fact serves to imply, to the unbelieving world, that ‘death rises to testify that life is absurd and God, if He exists, is either indifferent or impotent or perhaps both.’
While I agree with him, I would like to shift the problem of death away from God’s apparent (albeit wrongly perceived) indifference to man’s fate and focus on man’s inability to overcome that fate which awaits everyone.
Swiss theologian and Bible translator Louis Segond2 offers that the book of Ecclesiastes serves to demonstrate that nobody has the necessary traits to rescue themselves from death; whether wise or less so, whether honest or cheat, in the fight with death, no one has the winning weapon within themselves.3 The question shifts from, what traits can save a person from death, to whom will God rescue out from death;4 because here Segond sees an immense problem, “belief in the immortality of the soul does not belong in the Old Testament economy”5 The answer is of course that God is always lying just below the surface of the text – God will right a wrong.6
Ecclesiastes 12:7 “and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it”- is often used to promote the immediacy of heaven upon death.7 A home-going; but the very next verse doesn’t lend support to such a hallelujah event; Vanity of vanities…all is vanity.
If the narrative were to stop there, it would hardly be of any consolation. Thankfully the promise of resurrection comes to the rescue. Martha mourned the death of her brother,8 yet also knew that he would “rise again in the resurrection in the last day.” Jesus validated Martha’s assurance by proclaiming “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live”9
There is no delight in disagreeing with brothers and sisters in mourning who imaging immediate blessings for their departed. There is no need quote William Tyndale’s “what cause is there of the resurrection”10 We simply comfort with the promise that all brothers and sisters in Christ, one day, ultimately, shall walk again in freedom in the Garden of the Lord.1112
- Ecclesiastes 2:15-17 Then I said in my heart, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” And I said in my heart that this is also vanity. For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.
- The BLS is the version of my youth
- L’Écclésiastes, Étude Critique, Louis Segond, Strasbourg, page 61
- ibid page 54
- ibid page 61
- ibid page 54
- Glenn Peoples https://www.afterlife.co.nz/tag/ecclesiastes-127/
- John 11:24
- John 11:25
- [William Tyndale, An Answer to Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue]
- Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
- V. Hugo on Isaiah 2:4 – We shall walk again in freedom in the garden of the Lord. We shall walk behind the plowshare. We shall put away the sword.