A Tug of War Between Life and Death

The Meaning of Life Series
  • What happens when we seek ultimate meaning outside of relationship with the Creator God? What happens when we're desperate for the answers to life but can't seem to find any? What happens when our souls get wearied from the constant pursuit of pleasure and possessions? These are enormous questions of life and meaning that Ecclesiastes grapples with in the timeless complexity and messiness of reality. In the end, the ancient philosopher recalibrates our hearts, minds, and lives to pursue meaning in the Ultimate God because God alone holds the key to the meaning of life.
8. A Tug of War Between Life and Death (Ecclesiastes 8:2-9:10)
  • Can we find meaning in life through collecting power, cheerful activity, and common destiny?
Sermon Preparation Guide
  • Importance – What are the central ideas of the text?
  • The wise one will live in obedience to God as He knows all. (Ecclesiastes 8:2-8)
  • It is well for one to live in fear of God for He is sovereign over all. (Ecclesiastes 8:12 & 13)
  • Though all will die one day, only God knows when, and one should live life to the fullest as a gift of God until that day. (Ecclesiastes 8:15; 9:4, 7-10)
  • Implications – What questions should the listener be asking?
  • Why is it crucial to live in obedience to God?
  • What do one’s circumstances direct or not direct how one should live? What should direct how one should live?
  • All will die, both good and bad; how then shall we live the life we have been given?
Talk it Over Discussion Guide
  • Interpretation – What is the text telling/showing us?
  • How is living under a king a picture of living under God?
  • Is your life guided by unseen forces over which you have no control?
  • What is the implication of the reality that similar things happen to good and bad people, and that often, the bad seems to get the best of things?
  • Why would one say that it is vanity that the evil sometimes receive what the righteous should receive, and vice-versa?
  • In the face of the inequities and unfairness of life, how should one live?
  • Can the meaning of life be discovered by the wisdom of man? (read I Corinthians 1:18-31; 2:6-16)
  • What is the advantage of living as over against death?
  • Should the presence of evil determine how you live your life?
  • How should on live in the light of the reality of death?
  • Implementation – What should the listener’s response be?
  • How should you live in light of who God is? How do you live in light of who God is?
  • Do you know what will happen tomorrow, or the next day, or next week or next month? Who does?
  • How does wisdom respond to the reality that no one knows what tomorrow will bring?
  • What does the presence of evil and the seeming advantage of evil in terms of life’s rewards lead you to decide how you should live your life? Should you just live for yourself and get what you can any way you can simply because you’ll just die in the end?
  • What does it mean for you to fear God? How does that fear of God affect how you live your life?
  • Why should you live each day as if it is a gift from God?
  • Do you think you can know and understand enough to live a meaningful life? What is that knowledge and understanding?
  • All humans will die one day, though none knows when. Who does know when you will die? Do you trust yourself and your life to the One who knows when you will die? Why?
  • Why is there hope in living? Why is a living dog better than a dead lion?
  • In light of Ecclesiastes 9:7-10, how will you choose to live your life and why?
Sermon Teaching Notes (as prepared by Pastor Dick Murphy)
  • Investigation – What’s generally going on in this area of Scripture?
The up-and-down nature of the Preacher’s search continues in this installment. In the immediately preceding Notes, the Preacher set out some “ways of the wise;” ways to live life in spite of not knowing all the answers, or even very many of them. The ways included living seriously, thoughtfully and with humility, not focusing on the past, and seeing things through to the end. And these ways were in the context of knowing at the least that God is in control of all things, whether they seem good or bad from the human perspective, and that God does have a plan and purpose. The issue, as we would put it in New Testament terms, is one of faith. But even in this, the Preacher wrestled with the problem of evil and evil people, concluding in chapter 8, verse 1, that the problem is not God or from God, and thus one must continue to live the ways of the wise simply because they are from God, and doing thus keeps meaninglessness, which is the outcome of the human only perspective, at bay. So, the Preacher clings to God, and that makes his face “shine.” (Ecclesiastes 8:1b)

In Chapter 8, verse 2, the Preacher continues the thought of living the ways of the wise, comparing it to living in a way that seeks to please the king. Using this earthly example, the Preacher says that the king, like God, is not accountable to his subjects (Ecclesiastes 8:4). Moreover, the subjects do not know the future or its outcome either in general or as it pertains to them; however, at the least, they do know that obedience in the present will most likely please the king. (Ecclesiastes 8:5-7). Therefore, it is wise to live in such a way, even to the end, meaning until one dies (Ecclesiastes 8:8).

But in living the ways of the wise, the Preacher notes that there will nevertheless be inconsistencies and things that seem unfair and unjust, including oppression (Ecclesiastes 8:9), the evil person honored in life though forgotten at death (Ecclesiastes 8:10), the delays in the execution of justice (Ecclesiastes 8:11), the good receiving bad while the bad receive good (Ecclesiastes 8:14), and long life for the one who does evil (Ecclesiastes 8:12a). During life, the foregoing are troubling, and indeed are vanity, says the Preacher (Ecclesiastes 8:10, 14). Yet, even in the midst of such thinking, the Preacher knows, and clings to, the fact that the one who fears God will receive His ultimate approval (Ecclesiastes 8:12b, 13) which will not be the case for the one who does not fear God (Ecclesiastes 8:13). While not writing about what will happen in eternity and in the future, all of which is in God’s hands, the Preacher is saying that God is to be trusted, and that whatever is to be in the future is not only in His hands, but will be right. Indeed, the Preacher seems to be clinging to this reality again as a measure of holding meaninglessness at bay.

The Preacher is still at a difficult place, facing vanity in the person of evil people and in the reality of evil results. But where does he go? The Preacher again goes to his recurring theme: in the fact of apparent meaninglessness, live life and enjoy it as a gift of God, even in the work and toil of each day (Ecclesiastes 8:15). But even in this conclusion, the Preacher parenthetically reminds his readers that he has studied all these things and put his mind to understanding and seeking wisdom, only to find more questions than answers even as one lives life as a gift of God. (Ecclesiastes 8:16 & 17) So we again see the up and down, the push and pull, of the Preacher’s search; from a purely human approach, he still cannot seem to get fully away from the conclusion of vanity.

When all is said and done, the Preacher concludes, all die – the good, the bad, the wise and the fool – and all are equally still in God’s hands (Ecclesiastes 9:1 & 2), and one’s circumstances are not the measure of whether or not God is in control or whether or not God loves you and will provide for you in the end. Should one then live for whatever pleases him or her, even doing evil instead of good, because after all, it doesn’t matter anyway since it all ends at death? (Ecclesiastes 9:3) The Preacher rejects this thinking and instead insists that where there is life, there is hope (Ecclesiastes 9:4), and that only in life can there be anything with meaning since in death there is nothing. (Ecclesiastes 9:5 & 6). So, says the Preacher, not only should you live life while you have it, as God’s gift, but live it with zest as if you’re at a celebratory party, enjoying your work, your food and drink, your family and your very clothing; live life to the full while you have the opportunity from God, with His full approval, as that opportunity will indeed be gone when you die. (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10) And no matter what the circumstances are, says the Preacher, “a living dog is better than a dead lion” (Ecclesiastes 9:4) even though the latter was the supposed king of the animal world.

Thus, the “tug of war” continues; there’s vanity, and futility, and evil; but there’s life and hope. And it seems that whenever the Preacher ends up at the point of vanity and meaninglessness in his pursuit, to a place where he could just as easily give up, instead he comes down on the side of life, of God, and of hope (Ecclesiastes 9:4a). The Preacher doesn’t necessarily know the how, why, what or when of that hope; he just clings to it. But those who are in Christ and have given their lives to Jesus, know the how, why, what and when of hope. There is no mystery any longer, as God has made known His will and purpose, and it is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27) God, in His great mercy “has caused us to be born again to a living hope, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (I Peter 1:3) Life has meaning, and it is summed up in Jesus Christ in whom is life. God does not want us mired in meaninglessness, for He is the God of meaning and of purpose, and once saved by grace in Christ, a person is made new and has meaning and purpose in a life given to Him, in a life of service to and for Him out of love for what He has done, and in a life that points to Him in everything. So, the Preacher may be clinging to hope out of desperation; but we who are in Christ bask in hope in His love given us through His grace. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13) Amen!