Ecclesiastes has a lot to say about death. The consensus? Death sucks.
And life sucks because death is coming for you.
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Life sucks, and then you die.” Well, Ecclesiastes would give you a much gloomier perspective. “Life sucks, and then you get cancer. You spend months in the hospital getting all sorts of nasty treatments with side effects worthy of making the list of 10 plagues. Suddenly, miraculously, the cancer goes into remission. You throw a party for the day that you are checked out of the hospital. But on the way home you get hit by a bus and die instantly.”
That’s the view of life and death we get in Ecclesiastes. If you need Prozac now, I know a guy…
Think about it. What hard evidence do we have about the afterlife? How do we know what happens when we die? Is this life all we get?
Apparently that’s the kind of outlook the Teacher had when writing Ecclesiastes. He obviously had no established concept of heaven and hell, eternal life and eternal punishment. These realities had not been revealed to Israel yet. We get glimpses as we work through the prophets, especially Daniel. But the theology of heaven and hell were not really developed until much later.
But we have the privilege of living in a post-resurrection world. We have the evidence of the resurrection that can give us faith beyond a doubt that heaven and hell are real. The resurrection means that it does, in fact, matter if you are good or sinful, if you offer sacrifices or not, if you are clean or unclean, to put it in the Teacher’s terms.
All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.
As it is with the good,
so with the sinful;
as it is with those who take oaths,
so with those who are afraid to take them. (Ecclesiastes 9:2)
According to him ethics, morality, and worship are of no value when it comes time to shuffle off this mortal coil. It doesn’t matter what is in our bucket when we finally kick it. We all share a common destiny.
The resurrection of Jesus reveals to us that this is not the case. Death has been defeated. It no longer has free reign over every living person. There are those who will escape the final victory of death, and in the end death itself will die.
For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:53-58)
Don’t get me wrong, death is still the great equalizer. But not in the way it used to be. Someone once said, “For a Christian, baptism is the only death that matters.” See, we’ve already died. And in a way, it doesn’t matter what kind of person we were before that death – whether good or bad, clean or unclean, worshipers or not. We all died. And now we do, in fact, share a common destiny!
Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:3-7)
So in a way the Teacher in Ecclesiastes is exactly right, and in a way he couldn’t be more wrong. Baptism is the only death that matters. If we’ve already died, then we’ve been set free from the cycle of sin and death and the anxiety of what happens once our hearts stop beating.