Ecclesiastes and the Postmodern Teenager: Good News in Death
Follow along with us this week and next as we delve into various aspects of the book of Ecclesiastes, and the many ways it speaks to the life of the post-modern teenager.
Just over a month ago, the inevitable happened. It should have never happened at all. Jill was in her late 40s, full of life, and made everyone in the room feel special. The energy with which she lived was inspiring. Then cancer claimed her as one of its one. For four years, Jill fought and kicked cancer’s butt. Even when cancer “won,” it didn’t win.
Jill was also Cam’s mom, a senior in the youth group at our church. Over the four years Cam was in my ministry, we had a lot of conversations over hamburgers or just sitting in my car asking why? Why her? What now? What is the point of this? What do I do if…?
Jill’s death was frustrating. Her death was heartbreaking. Her death was a reminder of the brokenness of this world and the horrific ways in which sin wreaks havoc all around and within us. Her death, sadly, felt inevitable.
The writer of Ecclesiastes notes that, unless you plan on spending a fortune on cryogenics, death is inevitable for all. Whether you are healthy or unhealthy, young or old, a human or a beast, “all is vanity. All to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return” (3:19-20). Sin is so pervasive that no one, no matter how hard we try, can escape death. It comes for each of us. The writer repeats this truth again in chapter 9: death and judgement before God are inevitable and await both the righteous and the wicked (9:2).
Death is unavoidable, but the cross and the resurrection change everything for us.
While the writer of Ecclesiastes didn’t have the luxury of looking back at the resurrection to shape his look forward, he hints at that future knowledge and invites the reader to respond in two ways.
1. In 9:3, the writer states plainly (and somewhat morbidly) that “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.” In essence: we sin, we long to sin, and then we die.
But then he says, “But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion” (9:4). A lion was associated with royalty, and the archetypal predator. Dogs in that time were not house pets, but vicious scavengers. The writer suggests that it is better to fight in life like a lowly dog than to be a dead king.
As long as we live, we have hope. And as long as we have Christ and his death, we are alive.
Because of Christ, we are joined with all the living, joined with those in the church, and we have hope not just for this life, but for all of eternity. The resurrection – victory over sin and death – gives us just that. It gives us hope in this life, but it also promises that there is something beyond this life to live for.
2. The author of Ecclesiastes invites the reader to “eat your bread with joy…enjoy life with the wife you love [or family, in the case of our students]” (v7-9). Death may be coming, but we are to enjoy the life we have been given.
The whole of scripture and the gospel reminds us that yes, because of sin, death is inevitable. But we were created and deemed good, along with the rest of creation, which we were made to enjoy and work with. Because of the resurrection of Jesus, we have a hope, a living hope, that defeats death and promises life – a very good, whole life.
In light of the gospel, we are also invited into the process of ushering in glimpses of that good life to come. The writer of Ecclesiastes says, “there is nothing better than that a person should rejoice in his work (3:22) … whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might” (9:10).
NT Wright completes the thought of the writer of Ecclesiastes well. He says in his book, Surprised by Hope, “The point of the resurrection…is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die…What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it…What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether (as the hymn so mistakenly puts it…). They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”
What we do today and how we live today, even though we die, matters for eternity.
Cam’s mother, Jill, knew that clearly. She knew she was going die. She knew cancer would take this life from her, but she knew that because of the gospel and the resurrection, cancer and death do not win. Our life is a gift, death is inevitable, but the cross and the resurrection change everything. Our lives should testify and proclaim that fact. Jill’s life did.