Two Kinds of Heart Medication

August 22, 2012 at 11:32 am | Posted in Ecclesiastes | 4 Comments
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A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth. It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools.

Ecclesiastes 7:1-5

Can it be that the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth? From King Solomon’s Old Testament, life-under-the-sun perspective, he could imagine a life so filled with struggles, troubles, pain, and sorrow, that leaving this world behind would be sweeter than entering. Of course, New Testament Christians shouldn’t be so pessimistic. We celebrate birth and new life passionately, but there is still in a sense in which it can be said that our “death day” will be better than our “birth day.” For Christians, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, and our final breath in this earthly life will mean entering in to the far-superior Heavenly realm to experience the unsurpassable joy of the presence of Jesus forever and ever.

Solomon went on to state that the house of mourning is better than the house of feasting. Can this be so? In a sense, feasting is a celebration of temporal, earthly things, and mourning is the facing of the reality that this world and its finite pleasures will come to an end. Mourning tends to help us face reality and truth, whereas – sometimes – eating, drinking, and merry-making suspend our sense of the importance of eternal things.

Can sorrow be better than laughter? Who would rather cry than laugh? Again, we must temper our understanding of Solomon’s pronouncements by taking a long view of the good of our souls. The Bible does say that a merry heart can be like medicine, but sometimes we need to experience sorrow to diagnose our true ailment.

Can being chewed out be better than someone singing a song to you? It depends on the person doing the rebuking or the person doing the singing. To be entertained by a fool can be far worse than being rebuked by a wise friend who is holding you accountable in truth and love.

This passage of Scripture always reminds me of a poem by A.E. Housman which starts off with the line, “Terence, this is stupid stuff…” One of the points of the poem is that grief and mourning and meditating on tragedy strengthens people for future troubles and trials and difficulties which are sure to come. Housman uses the example of King Mithridates, who is supposed to have intentionally consumed small doses of poison over long periods of time to inoculate himself against assassination attempts (which in ancient times often took the form of poisoning the king’s meat or wine). I don’t endorse all the sentiments of the poem from a Christian perspective – especially since the narrator endorses drunkenness as a valid means of dealing with heartache! But this section of the poem is a pretty good summation of what Solomon was getting at in Ecclesiastes Chapter 7:

And while the sun and moon endure
Luck’s a chance, but trouble’s sure,
I’d face it as a wise man would,
And train for ill and not for good.

A.E. Housman

Christians find our true joy, peace, and fulfillment in Christ Jesus when times get tough, but we do not live in a make-believe world where suffering, grief, mourning, and tribulations are to be brushed aside with frivolous distractions or vain entertainment.


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