I don’t know either. None of us do. Except for the likes of Colton Burpo, Don Piper or Eben Alexander none of us would really claim anything different. You haven’t been to the other side and neither have I. No matter what you might believe, you don’t really know what happens when you die.
Now if that bothers you, chances are you can understand the frustations Solomon had as he surveyed life’s injustices. Without a doubt, the greatest of these injustices was the time and manner of one’s death. Certainly foolish people did foolish things and died before their time. Wise people lived wisely and extended their lives.
But not always.
Sometimes people just died. For no reason. Without justice and without relief.
This bothered the king and he went looking for answers to this “evil” under the sun. His conclusions were mixed. On one hand, death could be a relief, because sorrow and pain and confusion would cease to be for that individual. At the same time, however painful life might be, “a living dog was better than a dead lion.” So, he decided the most fortunate of all were those who have not been born to be subjected to this world of absurdities.
If that seems confusing and slightly depressing, just think about Solomon’s greatest frustration: he couldn’t seem to decide what he believed happens when you die. He looked forward to a judgment. He trusted God to settle everything in favor of the righteous and against the wicked. But then he mused, “Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth…who can bring him to see what comes after him?”
It may be startling for many bible believing Christians to realize this, but not every bible writer believed in the afterlife. One scholar goes so far as to say, “Ecclesiastes, alone in the [Hebrew] Bible, is aware of the belief that at death the soul goes upward to the heavens rather than down to Sheol.” Even with the awareness of this idea, the teacher doesn’t know if this is true and “refuses to be comforted by conjecture.” 1)Fox, Michael 2004. The JPS Bible Commenatary: Ecclesiastes, 26
Now you might want to dismiss Solomon’s concern on the basis of the fact that we live after the time of Jesus. You might want to disregard his question because you have a mountain of evidence that shows Jesus did rise from the grave and there is life after death. You might want to say, “I know what happens when you die.”
But you don’t.
You sometimes speculate.
But you don’t know.
It’s okay not to know. It may seem like it strengthens your faith to insist that you do know, but really it only makes it more shallow. It’s a way of saying, “I will only trust God on what I can see and understand. If I don’t understand, I’ll just pretend I do.” This approach makes us sacrifice our brain to “save” our soul. In so doing, we’re more likely to lose our minds and our faith.
Meanwhile, there are countless individuals whose honesty will not allow them to let go of these questions so easily. They wrestle with these uncertaintites and when they’re told that the only way to have faith is to know what they have not yet experienced and cannot possibly know, they often end up walking away from faith communities and even from God. We do them a disservice when we don’t allow room for those uncomforable questions, room for faith to grow.
In this, Solomon was exceedingly wise. He knew what he knew, but he also accepted what he didn’t. With all his questions in the face of death, his wisdom was not enough. Though he developed an intimate relationship with God, this was something God did not reveal to him. Instead of insisting that God show him or denying his uncertainty, he chose to honestly acknowledge what he didn’t know and put his faith in Him anyway. Because of that, he kept his sanity and his faith.
May we honor those in our lives seeking to do the same.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Fox, Michael 2004. The JPS Bible Commenatary: Ecclesiastes, 26|