If you’ve been following this blog series in Ecclesiastes, you have probably noticed that the topic of death has come up…a lot. So what does the Teacher (the writer of Ecclesiastes) believe about the afterlife?
Notice what the Teacher says at the end of verse 4:
Dorsey’s Translation: “But even a live dog is better off than a dead lion! 5 For the living know they will die, but the dead know nothing. They can derive no more benefit from this life; even the memory of them fades away. 6 Their love, their hate, and their zeal have already come to an end. They will never again take part in anything that happens in this life.”
The Teacher’s message here is simple: “To be alive is better than death.” The Teacher points out what might at first seem obvious: when you’re gone, you are no longer an active participant in life. Worse, you will likely be forgotten.
At this point, if you’re like me, you might be thinking, “This sounds very dark, as if there is nothing after death. Why doesn’t he talk about heaven? You’d think he would say that after you die, you have the hope and joy of heaven where there will be no sorrow, no tears and no pain.” Frankly, we don’t know what the Teacher believed about our typical Christian view of afterlife, heaven, hell. He simply doesn’t refer to anything like that. It seems, instead, he seems to be trying to make a different point altogether.
What the Teacher suggests is that we would be wise to focus on living life in the here and now. Why? When we’re dead and gone, we are no longer able to have any benefit from or impact on the here and now.
That is a critical point: The Teacher wants his readers not to despair about the uncertain future, but to remember that when they are dead they no longer have any way to impact the here and now. As a result, the Teacher is saying to his readers, to people like you and I who are alive now, “Rather than speculate about the unknowable future, because you are in the now, focus on how you live now.” And that begs the question, “How are we supposed to live now?” If we aren’t supposed to succumb to worry about the future, what should our outlook on life be? Again, the Teacher is ready with more wisdom for us, and we’ll see what he has to say in the next post.