When Life Doesn't Make Sense (Eccl. 3:16-4:16)
Searching For Heaven On Earth • Sermon • Submitted • 38:37
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Moreover I saw under the sun: In the place of judgment, Wickedness was there; And in the place of righteousness, Iniquity was there.
When Life Doesn’t Make Sense
1 The Problem of Faulty Justice (3:16-22)
Solomon looks to the place where justice and righteousness should be—the courts—and instead sees wickedness. In this cursed existence, even where you should find things made right, there is injustice.
What does this mean? It means the innocent are found guilty and the guilty are acquitted. The rights of the poor and defenseless are not protected (which was a key function of the authorities in the Old Testament).
Isaiah 5:23 acknowledges that this was a problem in Israel—the guilty were acquitted for a bribe. Whether one was guilty or innocent was not the deciding factor but rather how much money a person had.
While we would like to think things are different in modern America, they really are not. The rich can get away with murder if they can afford the right defense team.
There is a person who works at LifeWay right now who spent decades in jail for a crime he did not commit. He was exonerated by DNA evidence that showed he was never at the crime scene.
But his life was torn apart. We live in a world where a thief can fall through the roof of a house he is attempting to rob, sue the homeowner, and win a settlement.
Our system often is less about justice and more about having the right lawyer and having the right money (Driscoll, “Gift of Death”).
We view this reality and are outraged, and rightly so. There needs to be accountability. Things need to be set right, but that does not happen!1
1 Daniel L. Akin and Jonathan Akin, Exalting Jesus in Ecclesiastes (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2016), Ec 3:16–17.
People are pained over this reality. Children do not get far into life without uttering the phrase, “That’s not fair,” to which we parents respond, “Life’s not fair.” And that is true. Life is not fair.
But something deep inside of us says that it should be. That is why songs like John Lennon’s “Imagine” and John Mayer’s “Waiting for the World to Change” endure.
We long for justice because we were made in the image of a God who is just. We wonder, When will God do something about this? When will things be made right?
When will ISIS pay for crucifying children? Beheading innocents? When will the sex traffickers get what’s coming to them? We recognize that there needs to be a final and ultimate accountability.
After all, if there is not a final reckoning, then the 9/11 hijackers never got what they rightfully deserve. They received the same fate as the people they killed.
We cannot accept that as reality, and for good reason: it is not. The Bible cries out for this as well.
We watch in the news that ISIS beheaded 21 of our Egyptian brothers, and we cry out with the martyrs in Revelation 6, “How long until You judge and avenge our blood from those who live on the earth?”
Solomon answers this cry. He says that there is a set time for God to judge the righteous and the wicked (3:17). This phrase repeats 3:1. God has a carefully timed plan, but we cannot know when it will be executed.
Even Jesus, when He laid aside His glory in the incarnation, admitted that the Son of Man did not know the time and hour (Matt 24:36). Of course, He knows now in His exalted and glorified state!
But even though he does not know the timing, Solomon trusts that God will set things right and that injustice will finally be reversed. The wicked will not ultimately get away with it (Greidanus, Preaching Christ, 99).
While we know God will make things right, the problem lies in that we cannot see it happening right now and we do not know when He will act.
This is a tough reality for us all—stuck between confidence in belief and concern about reality. We are suspended between belief in the end times and uncertainty about what comes next (Webb, Five Festal Garments, 94).
Meanwhile, the wicked continue to prosper, and the poor are oppressed.
We live in a Psalm 73 reality where the believer is tempted toward skepticism because of the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the faithful, and yet like the psalmist we are called patiently to trust God and His timing!
2 The Problem with Fierce Oppression (4:1-3)
Solomon begins chapter 4 by observing oppressions done under the sun and how the oppressed shed tears but no one can comfort them.
People do such cruel things to one another, and no one can stop it. No one can make the oppressed feel better or set things right. Solomon expresses much angst over the situation.
The reason no one can comfort the oppressed is because power is on the side of the oppressors. They can do as they please (Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, 305).
Therefore, politics in this fallen world is meaningless. The people elected to uphold justice, set things right, and pass laws to protect the hurting are the ones who ultimately end up doing the oppressing.
The problem is that power corrupts, so even if someone sees the evil of the system and gets involved with a desire to reform things, once he has power, he is then corrupted and nothing changes (Kidner, Ecclesiastes, 44).
In our political system, often people have to compromise their ideals in order to climb the ladder, and once they get to a position of influence they no longer are the same person anymore.
Politicians, judges, and the rich can oppress the poor and the outcast who have little, if any, recourse. The powerful can do what they want to the weak, and no one can stand up for the weak, whether it is an unborn child or a slave-traded little girl.
Now one might object, “That is not true! Much can be done to help the oppressed.” Yes, people can help the oppressed, but Solomon’s point is that there is no net gain (Kidner, Ecclesiastes, 43).
You cannot end oppression altogether. You might work really hard to end oppression in one little corner of the world and see a degree of success, but the oppression pops back up again in another place.
The twentieth century saw Hitler overthrown, but then there was Stalin, and then there was Polpot, and now there is ISIS.
Certainly we should work for justice. We should engage in mercy ministry. This is near God’s heart and talked about repeatedly throughout the Bible, especially in the wisdom literature.
But without Christ, it will not be completely changed. We need to recognize that the purpose of Ecclesiastes is different from other books.
While other books intend to encourage concern and help for the poor, Ecclesiastes intends to expose the meaninglessness of life in this fallen world.
The whole thing is discouraging. We live in a world where it is in vogue to end injustice and put red X’s on your hand. However, ours is a world where powers are corrupt, and they even use mercy for their own benefit.
This reality is so painful that the Teacher says it is better to be dead or never to have been born. The dead do not have to see what we do to one another anymore—injustice can be worse than death.
Plus, those who have never been born have never had to see how we treat one another like animals under the sun.
They have never seen ISIS behead or crucify children. Such chaos abounds in this cursed and broken world. Solomon is exasperated and says death seems better than life.1
1 Daniel L. Akin and Jonathan Akin, Exalting Jesus in Ecclesiastes (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2016), Ec 4:1–5:9.
3 The Problem of Financial Rivalry (4:4-6) SEE DJ
4 The Problem of Fractured Relationships (4:7-12) SEE DJ
5 The Problem of Fickle People (4:13-16) SEE DJ
Solomon lays out his exasperation over leadership failures (perhaps even convicted about his own failures), death, and the lack of justice in the world.
The Teacher cries out for solutions to these problems, and Jesus is the answer to each! The problem of leaders who oppress rather than make the world a better place cries out for a king who is greater than Solomon and Rehoboam and the others.
Our longing for righteous political leaders who set things right is a longing for King Jesus. In His kingdom there is no oppression. There is no inequality.
We see this now in seed form in the church—the outpost of the kingdom. Rich and poor, slave and free, sit down together at the table. There are no needy among us (Acts 4).
We show mercy to the hurting. We get a foretaste of this in the church, but we long for the day when Jesus establishes His kingdom from sea to sea, so that all oppression is ended (see Ps 72)!
We also see the reign of death. We die and decay just like animals, and we do not know for sure what lies beyond.
We fear death, and we try to push it off with diet, exercise, and cosmetic surgery, but it pursues us still.
We frustratingly long for resurrection, and the New Testament reveals that for which we long. We cannot know what will happen to us after we die because no one has gone into death and come back, except for one Man (Acts 13:30).
Jesus did not decay into the dust, and by faith in Him you will be raised from the dead as well. Christ’s resurrection not only made it possible for us to be raised to eternal life, but it also showed us what resurrection will be like.
Those who are united to Christ will live forever not as body-less souls that fly away but rather in glorified bodies where there is no pain, sorrow, or death (Rev 21:4)!
Finally, the Bible says there will be a final judgment where the wicked are raised to eternal punishment and the righteous to eternal life (Dan 12).
There will be a final reckoning where all things are set right, and Ecclesiastes makes this clear as well (11:9; 12:13–14).
The good news is that God brought final judgment into the middle of human history and judged sin in His Son’s body on the cross.
Jesus took the judgment humanity deserved at the cross, so that by repentance and faith we could be declared righteous in God’s sight. He took injustice on Himself.
He knows what the oppressed are going through because the greatest injustice in the history of mankind is the Son of God being murdered by evil men.
Why did Christ endure that injustice? He endured injustice so that He could ultimately end injustice forever!
Preachers told me this narrative my entire life: all that needs to happen to change America is for us to elect the right politicians and pass the right laws. But that narrative has proven to be untrue.
Building a nation on God’s laws will not change America any more than it changed ancient Israel because laws do not change the human heart. Only Jesus can do that.
We live in a world of oppression and injustice, and only the gospel can change things.