“In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other”
If you have not lived long enough to yet experience severe suffering, don’t worry, you will. If death, mourning, sickness, or sorrow have not yet visited your doorstep, don’t worry, they will. As Job’s friend Eliphaz sagely observed: “man is born for trouble, as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). The Lord Jesus Christ affirmed in John 16:33, “in this world you will have trouble.” If we read and understand our Bibles accurately, as well as look at the world around us with open eyes, we will come to the inescapable and realistic conclusion that humanity and this world are bruised and broken, sick and sore. The truth is that we all walk through a series of valleys. A realistic and honest view of life “under the sun,” is that the walk of life will regularly and often take us through many dangers, toils, and snares.
Having concluded the first half of the book of Ecclesiastes last time, we were left with a rather bleak forecast for mankind in this world. Qoheleth has left us with a taste of despair as we look at his fatalistic description of the cyclical nature of wickedness in the world. Evil is inevitable; adversity is the expected course of human events, and it appears as though a sovereign God is to blame for it (see 6:10). In addition to a rather hopeless prognosis, the first 6 chapters of Ecclesiastes also left us with several unanswered questions. The final verse of chapter 6 asks, “who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life …?” and “who can tell man what will be after him under the sun?” Qoheleth addresses these two questions over the next four chapters of Ecclesiastes.
“Who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow?” (6:12b). Considering the brevity of life on earth, and the meaningless of the pursuits that occupy the time and effort of human beings, can we say that there is anything at all that is good and profitable in the course of our lives? Are there any pursuits that are worthwhile? Considering the fact of pain and suffering and the inevitability of sickness and death, how are we to live out our days? While we are in a human predicament there are few if any modern psychologist and self-help gurus who can offer us any truly helpful instructions on how to live practically in the midst of trials; however, Qoheleth suggests four ways to maneuver through the valleys of life in order to survive adversity. First he recommends thinking about death as opposed to living in denial (1-4); secondly that it is better to be openly rebuked than flattered by fools (5-6); third he suggests, that the end of a matter is better than its beginning (vss. 7-10); and fourth he instructs that there is an advantage to living wisely (vss. 11-12). All of this is to be lived out in the atmosphere of understanding that God sovereignly ordains both our days of prosperity as well as our days of adversity.
Prepare your heart this week by reading the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:3-12. As you do, take note of the many ways that Jesus addresses pain and suffering, and His diagnosis of the spiritual state of those who suffer.