Why do bad things happen to good people? This is one question that is asked over and over again – sometimes with anger, sometimes with regret, sometimes with a deep-seated grief when we see the many injustices in our world. Solomon ponders over this question a number of times in Ecclesiastes. He acknowledges the omnipotence of God, but also the mystery of God.
——- EVERYONE IS TESTED ——-
Everyone goes through times of testing – hard times, unjust situations, difficult decisions. Sometimes it does not seem to make sense. Sometimes, we feel quashed by the weight of the situation. Solomon has these thoughts in [Ecclesiastes 3:16-21] and it is interesting to see how he works through things.
First, he takes notice of the world’s injustice.
“Moreover I saw under the sun:
In the place of judgment,
Wickedness was there;
And in the place of righteousness,
Iniquity was there.”
Then, he determines that God is above all this and has a plan in place.
I said in my heart,
“God shall judge the righteous and the wicked,
For there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.”
There is some reasoning about the possible reasoning for God allowing suffering – perhaps that man would realise his humanity.
“I said in my heart, “Concerning the condition of the sons of men, God tests them, that they may see that they themselves are like animals.” For what happens to the sons of men also happens to animals; one thing befalls them: as one died, so dies the other. Surely, they all have one breath; man has no advantage over animals, for all is vanity. All got to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust.”
Solomon decides that he cannot fully comprehend the matter, and that man should enjoy the present as they are now living.
“Who knows the spirit of the sons of men, which goes upward, and the spirit of the animal, which goes down to the earth? So I perceived that nothing is better than that a man should rejoice in his own works, for that is his heritage. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him?”
Finally, he reflects upon death, or not existing, as perhaps being better since there is no need to worry about oppression and hurts in the grave, or if you have never known them.
“Then I returned and considered all the oppression that is done under the sun:
And look! The tears of the oppressed,
But they have no comforter –
On the side of their oppressors there is power,
But they have no comforter.
Therefore I praised the dead who were already dead,
More than the living who are still alive.
Yet, better than both is he who has never existed,
Who has not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.”
When we look at this, we see Solomon’s struggle to understand suffering in the world. It is not unlike what we go through today – a cycle of questions as we understand pain, contemplate God’s sovereignty, witness our own mortality, come to a place of no answer, value life and yet see why some seek comfort in death. Is death really better? The value or life and death is discussed more in this post: To Live or Die?. I strongly believe that God desires each one of us to live on earth to the full potential he has created in us. Why suffering then? Like Solomon, I cannot give a black and white answer, but I have faith in this – God is sovereign and He knows what He is doing.
——- EVERYONE SINS ——-
Solomon offers another perspective for the “just man who perishes in his righteousness, [and] … the wicked man who prolongs life in his wickedness.” [Ecclesiastes 7:15]. Everyone sins. If this is the case, then injustice is being melded out every day. We can take it to heart and let it destroy our identity, or we can fight against it.
“For there is not a just man on earth who does good
And does not sin.
Also do not take to heart everything people say,
Lest you hear your servant cursing you.
For many times, also, your own heart has known
That even as you have cursed others.”
Words have great power and it is no wonder God warns us about the power of the tongue so many times in the bible. Injustice often comes by means of words, and we also have this weapon – a common cause of sin. Furthermore, we are commonly the cause of our own suffering. As Solomon remarks, “…There is a time in which one man rules over another to his own hurt.” [Ecclesiastes 8:9]
We cannot really say we deserve a suffering-free life since the world is marred by sin, whose wages are death. Yet, we have grace through the blood of Christ.
——- EVERYONE DIES, BUT THERE IS A HOPE ——-
Ecclesiastes 8-11 rides up and down on the stark reality of death, yet also its startling hope.
There is the surety of God’s justice.
[Ecclesiastes 8:12-13] –“Though a sinner does evil a hundred times, and his days are prolonged, yet I surely know that it will be well with those who fear God, who fear before Him. But it will not be well with the wicked; nor will he prolong his days, which are as a shadow, because he does not fear before God.”
The mystery of how God works.
[Ecclesiastes 8:17] – “…then I saw all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. For though a man labours to discover it, yet he will not find it; moreover, though a wise man attempts to know it, he will not be able to find it.”
The sovereignty of God.
[Ecclesiastes 9:1] – “For I considered all this in my heart, so that I could declare it all: that the righteous and the wise and their works are in the hand of God. People know neither love nor hatred by anything they see before them.”
The abruptness of death.
[Ecclesiastes 9:3] – “This is an evil in all that is done under the sun: that one thing happens to all. Truly the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.”
The hope of living in eternity.
[Ecclesiastes 9:4-6] – “But for him who is joined to all the living there is hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they will die;
But the dead know nothing,
And they have no more reward,
For the memory of them is forgotten.
Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have perished;
Nevermore will they have a share in anything done under the sun.”
. . .
Considering all these things, what shall we do about suffering? Ultimately, we must look to God. We are joined in Christ, and therefore joined in His eternal life. We can recognise and trust the sovereignty of God. Let us look to God, even in the face of suffering, even in the fire of injustice. The time is now.
[Ecclesiastes 12:1] – “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth,
Before the difficult days come,
And the years draw near when you say,
“I have no pleasure in them.””