There’s a Chance–Ecclesiastes 3:19-22

You’re probably not going to win the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes. In fact, it is almost certain that you won’t win. Think about it. These people have been using all manner of advertisements to sell magazines and, more recently, gather information for big data for years. Do you know anyone who has won even a dollar? Do you know anyone who knows anyone? Right. You’re probably not going to win.

But there is, like Jim Carrey had at the end of Dumb and Dumber, still a chance.

You could win. And he could wind up with Lauren Holly by his side. You’d hate to miss out on winning if you were destined to do so, right? But you’re not going to win.

That seems to be the message that Solomon brings today. He suggests that since we can’t know that we have a better after-death fate than the animals, we should just live for today.

For the fate of the children of Adam and the fate of animals is the same. As one dies, so dies the other; they all have the same breath. People have no advantage over animals since everything is futile. All are going to the same place; all come from dust, and all return to dust. Who knows if the spirits of the children of Adam go upward and the spirits of animals go downward to the earth? I have seen that there is nothing better than for a person to enjoy his activities because that is his reward. For who can enable him to see what will happen after he dies?

Ecclesiastes 3:19-22

Solomon’s advice in this passage sounds almost identical to what Epicurus taught several hundred years later. Since we can’t tell whether there’s any reward for right living after we die, then we should just focus on today.

Don’t pursue what you can’t see

Is Solomon on the level with these claims? Or is he making provocative statements that we’re supposed to knock down? Let’s do a little thought experiment. My daughter bought some chickens, as I shared recently. These birds are perhaps half grown now. To date, they have not laid any eggs. Soon, Emily will start checking the nest box for eggs, hoping to see some little protein orbs lying there. But why should she check? Since no one can enable her to see what will be in the nest box, why should she look? Isn’t that the sort of logic that Solomon employs?

Let’s consider some of the people who rejected this sort of thinking:

  • Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.–Genesis 15:6
  • By faith Noah, after he was warned about what was not yet seen and motivated by godly fear, built an ark to deliver his family. By faith he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.–Hebrews 11:7
  • Jesus said [to Thomas], “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” –John 20:29

Getting in Tune

The paradox of Christian life is that we should live joyfully in the present with full confidence that the future, which we cannot see, will be better. Maybe, on second thought, that isn’t really a paradox. Maybe we are to live joyfully today because of our hope, our confidence, in eternity. It’s not a “chance.” It’s a certainty. Without that hope, I’d have a hard time enjoying my activities and accepting them as my reward. With that hope, I can face today and tomorrow.