A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. It comes without meaning, it departs in darkness, and in darkness its name is shrouded. Though it never saw the sun or knew anything, it has more rest than does that man— even if he lives a thousand years twice over but fails to enjoy his prosperity. Do not all go to the same place? Ecclesiastes 6, verses 3 – 6.
This is a pretty bleak picture, don’t you think? I mean, comparing the life of a hopeless but long-lived man to the never-life of a stillborn child? A stillborn child is a tragedy, a promise not realized, a life cut short, a reason for terrible grief and unquenchable sadness. It’s that bad? Really? Really.
Again, to me it’s another example of the frank beauty of Scripture. ‘The Good Book’ deals with tough issues in life, and it does so in ways that cut to the chase. These verses continue the train of thought that not enjoying one’s gifts from God is a grievous evil. It doesn’t say “oh, that’s a crying shame.” It says EVIL. Evil as in Hitler-type evil, as in Osama-type evil, as in wacko-shooter-at-a-Batman-movie evil. These verses compare not enjoying prosperity to things so unspeakably evil that they reside on the terrifying fringe of sane humanity.
What’s more, something that is dead is better than the evil. According to verses 3 through 6, something that is dead is better than something that is prosperous yet unsatisfied. Unsatisfied? Isn’t that kind of a low standard, a low threshold? Doesn’t the bar seem set a little low? I would be better to be dead than to live well and not enjoy it? Dissatisfaction equates with the Holocaust? Really? Really.
Do you think that’s extreme? I mean, in our US of A easygoing twenty first century English, do these words seem way too edgy? Our politicians today will stoop to any level, do anything including discrediting their offices or breaking the laws they are supposed to uphold just to win and we’re preferring death over dissatisfaction? Our television isn’t in the gutter because the gutter is too good for it and we’re using these extreme words? We casually ignore real famine, real tragedy, real suffering in the world everywhere but where we are and we’re talking about preferring oblivion to not liking what we’ve got? Really? Really.
I think back to Bible study at our old church in Colorado. A retired pastor belonged to that church, and I remember one day that he was practically exhorting how God looked at even our best deeds as filthy rags. He was quoting Isaiah 64: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” Even the very best we can do, absent God, is trash, disgusting, repulsive to a holy God. It isn’t that God wants to look at us and our actions this way. He has no choice when we’re tainted with the stains of our sins, our wrongs. All the junk we think, say and do messes us up in ways that we simply can’t fix alone and can never bleach clean.
And even this is better than someone who doesn’t enjoy when they’ve got it good.
Here’s the twist: We ALL always have it good. Even in the worst days, even when things are so tough and we’re really up against the wall we still have it good. Compared to the beggars who sift through the trash in Africa, I live like a king. I took a mission trip there last year and purposefully left behind my used clothes when I left. They were filthy and well-used, and I preferred to leave them with the trash rather than dirty my suitcase by bringing them home. Sure enough, they went to the dumpster behind the hotel. Most likely, by the end of the day, they had escaped the dumpster and became the belongings of a beggar who didn’t have any better.
Believe it or not, the beggar has it better than the one who was never born, and the one who was never born has it better than the one who lives a long, healthy life but is not satisfied.
What brings satisfaction? You know the answer. Is it any wonder, then, that without the satisfaction He gives, there can be only grievous evil? God is holy and intends for us to be holy so we can live in communion with Him. It’s a pure love thing. When we couldn’t do that on our own, He gave of Himself to fix it. He did that because not doing it would leave even the richest, most temporally righteous man living in unspeakable evil. When we don’t stop what we’re doing to be thankful for what He has given us, we’re letting ourselves be dragged back into our sin. Sin is separation from God: ANYTHING that separates us from God. And because God is holy, anything that takes us away from that is unholy.
You know: evil. Really? Really.
Really, really even though the words can seem extreme to those of us who live in a world that we fancy to be civilized. Without God, even the best that there is of this world isn’t as good as the unfulfilled promise of a dead child that was never born to live. It isn’t extreme hyperbole. It’s just the way things are.