Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before him. Ecclesiastes 8:12
One of the recurring themes of the book of Ecclesiastes is Qoheleth’s (the author’s) search for righteousness and justice on earth. The book can be said to be his treatise on the subject, as Qohelth has set out to apply his God-given wisdom to discover meaning in life under the sun. What he finds more often than not, is that the wicked prosper while the righteous are afflicted. Often this injustice is dealt by the hand of one in a position of authority. Recall that since the beginning of chapter 7, Qohelelth has been giving instruction on how to live well and good in a wicked world. In verses 2-5 of chapter 8, he recommends how to live peacefully under a powerful unpredictable king. His advice is to use wisdom when dealing with authorities in this wicked world – to act pleasantly yet confidently before them. He commends that authorities be treated with respect and that they be obeyed. A wise person will know the proper time and place to speak up and when to keep silent before earthly rulers.
Qoheleth’s thoughts about authority on earth, naturally flow into thought’s concerning God’s authority. As he looks around at the reality of injustice, he teeters on the brink of accusing God of injustice, as he cannot resolve the paradox of evil and suffering at the hands of authority, without invoking the ultimate authority, God Himself. Qoheleth wonders: why does the Divine King permit so much injustice on earth? This problem cannot be resolved in the Old Testament alone, where death is the end for all men, and the grave his final resting place. But as redemptive history moves forward, and we read Ecclesiastes in light of the Gospel – the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – we realize that there is coming a Judgment day when perfect justice will be meted out. As Jesus taught in John 5:28-29: “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”
Qoheleth’s application of wisdom is limited to observing the things of this world. So faced with the reality of injustice, the Preacher resorts to the only advice that seems to make sense on earth – He commends, “joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun” (8:15). Of course, this offers no answer at all to the questions of injustice and suffering; however, embracing joy in life does free us to live and let God be God, His judgments unsearchable, and his ways, inscrutable and higher than ours.
At the end of the day, Qoheleth’s experience, observations, and instruction teach us that we should exercise wisdom in order to survive in this unjust, wicked world; however that wisdom does not enable us to know the reason for everything that happens. Much less does it teach us about the fathomless love and indescribable mercy of our awesome God.