16Moreover I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, wickedness was there, and in the place of righteousness, wickedness was there as well. 17I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for he has appointed a time for every matter, and for every work. 18I said in my heart with regard to human beings that God is testing them to show that they are but animals. 19For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. 20All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. 21Who knows whether the human spirit goes upward and the spirit of animals goes downward to the earth? 22So I saw that there is nothing better than that all should enjoy their work, for that is their lot; who can bring them to see what will be after them?
1Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed - with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power - with no one to comfort them. 2And I thought the dead, who have already died, more fortunate than the living, who are still alive;3but better than both is the one who has not yet been, and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.
I wouldn't use the word 'refreshing' to describe this passage, but somehow it feels not completely out of place to use such a word. "Refreshing" in its realism about wickedness and oppression. Refreshing in its near nihilistic view that it's better not to have been born than to have been born into an evil world.
Friedrich Nietzsche, move on over, the Bible already got there way before, eons ago, before your famous nihilism.
A large portion of Ecclesiastes speaks from a surprisingly "unbiblical" perspective. It speaks from a nihilistic perspective with repeated echoes of "vanity," "all is vanity," and how everything is "meaningless." Of course this view itself is understood within a certain context. In the context of God's absence, a strong case can be made that everything is ultimately meaningless. Only one commonality or consistency can be found: we all die! "The fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same," it says above, "as one dies, so dies the other." Without God, all creatures end up in death. But given how terrible life on earth is, according to the writer of Ecclesiastes, death is not such a bad thing. So on a goodness scale, to live in a world of oppression and wickedness is worst, to die is better, to have not been born is best. To have lived and experienced pain is more terrible than to have lived at all, according to the writer.
Not the most life-affirming view.
Yet, strange, isn't it, that Ecclesiastes is part of Scripture? As Scripture, Ecclesiastes has full membership in the God-breathed community of other divinely inspired writings. We ought to take note. Why is it included?
Ecclesiastes falls under Israel's wisdom literature. Ecclesiastes grapples with the big questions of the meaning of life, work, toil, pleasures, achievement, death, happiness, motivation, exploitation, oppression, power, and money. Ecclesiastes is not afraid about asking the hard questions. It's not afraid voicing what seems like unholy thoughts and conclusions. All things are considered. Nothing is hidden. All is laid open to view.
The answers to the big questions are not answered in a satisfying way within the Book of Ecclesiastes itself. The answers will have to wait for the revelation of Jesus the Messiah and the ultimate overcoming of death, oppression, wickedness, and meaninglessness by the Risen Lord.
What Ecclesiastes invites us, the readers, into is this: ask the hard questions. There is no such thing as a "forbidden question." The Bible is ultimately about the real world. Questions that arise out of our interaction with the real, flawed, and fallen world are all welcome, because it's this real, flawed, and fallen world that God loves and seeks to redeem. Nothing is off limits. But the Lord has something to say.
Let's pray: Lord Jesus, we come before you this day with the knowledge of all the craziness and ugliness and wickedness the pervade our real world. We can see why people are discouraged and some in despair. We can see why people hate Christianity, why people are put off by religious talk, why people are not moved by what we have to say. We can see the partial truth in such thinking. We pray for those who harbor such nihilistic views. We pray especially for the young who are thinking along such hopeless lines. We pray for a revelation of your truth and your love and your reality. We pray that a true, genuine encounter with you might turn things around. A brighter day awaits for them, we pray. In your name, amen.