According to that great philosopher, Bert the chimney sweep (from Mary Poppins), “Life’s a rum go, guvner, and that’s the truth.” Good old Bert works hard at half a dozen jobs attempting to cobble together a living. He’s disrespected by the respectable and watches as the rain, no respecter of men, washes away his chalk sidewalk pictures. What does he have to show for it as he grinds at that grindstone? A few pieces of copper coinage, a smudge of soot on his face, and the suspicious looks of those around him.
Granted, had I wanted to present a poster child for the oppressed of this world, I might have done better than Bert. I could have gone to the people who have their livelihood stolen from them in Sudan or Thailand. I could have pointed to the victims of human trafficking or the ones caught in the crossfire of the drug trade. I could have used any of several people I know personally, people who have, through little or no fault of their own, found themselves caught in a situation with no apparent exit.
These people might join with Solomon in believing that they’d be better off dead or even better yet to have never been born.
Again, I observed all the acts of oppression being done under the sun. Look at the tears of those who are oppressed; they have no one to comfort them. Power is with those who oppress them; they have no one to comfort them. So I commended the dead, who have already died, more than the living, who are still alive. But better than either of them is the one who has not yet existed, who has not seen the evil activity that is done under the sun.Ecclesiastes 4:1-3
Permanent Solution to a Temporary Problem
In 2017, over 47,000 people in the U.S. took feelings like these to their logical end, killing themselves. That’s a large body of people, but in a population of well over 300 million, it’s not quite as awful as we might expect, coming in at about .015% of the population. If we factor in the apparent suicide attempts, then we see that percentage rise to about .15% or about one and a half out of every thousand people.
I don’t throw those statistics out to minimize suicide, but to suggest that if Solomon is right and people really feel this way, the numbers would be higher. Even when we recognize that miserable people still often fear death, we see that the vast bulk of suffering individuals find some reason to hang on to this mortal life.
Getting in Tune
Frankly, I find human life, stripped of the hope we have through Christ, utterly dismal. If I had to watch the suffering and oppression of this world without believing that the Creator God would eventually put things right, I’d probably struggle to go on.
The true futility in life, though, is to live a life as either an oppressor or as one who watches the oppression and sees nothing wrong. That is a life wasted. My efforts will not put an end to whatever ills I see today, but I can point the way to the only genuine hope this world possesses. Yes, I will be better off when I’m dead, but I needn’t be in a hurry to reach that destination.