“Life is tough, and then you die.” Maybe you’ve heard that sentiment in a song, read it on a bumper sticker, or scrolled past something similar on social media. Perhaps it lacks some nuance, but in a way, it is actually quite accurate: life in this world is often challenging, and we are all going to leave it behind one day.
In Ecclesiastes, the Preacher helps us to see that when we face up to life’s transience, we eventually realize that “it is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart” (Eccl. 7:2).
When you’re young, a visit to a graveyard may feel odd or uncomfortable, but it’s nothing to sweat about. You can run around and look at the dates on the tombstones without thinking much of them. But when you walk through a cemetery later in life, you realize that the dates are, in a sense, your dates. You can kid yourself that life will go on forever and pass your days in indulgence, but that time will be ill spent. You’re actually better off taking at least a little time every so often to sit among the tombstones—whether literally or, more likely, metaphorically—and face the facts of life head on.
As much as we may not want it to be true, it’s in life’s hard days and sad events that we learn and grow. “Sorrow,” says the Preacher, “is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad” (Eccl. 7:3). Happiness, of course, has its place. The Christian life is intended to be joyful. And it’s wonderful when we’re able to reflect on memories of old with fondness. Yet doing so brings with it the temptation to get stuck in the past and fixated on worldly blessing. Our minds can quickly be consumed by hopes that we will return to life as it once was, when we were stronger, when we were more mentally astute, when we didn’t see so many wrinkles in the mirror, or maybe just when our joints didn’t ache. When we give in to such temptation, we can find ourselves overlooking what God is doing in the present and what He has promised to do in the future.
The Preacher helpfully reminds us that “it is not from wisdom that you ask” why the past was better than the present (Eccl. 7:10), and he is kind enough to give us the antidote to the “good old days” syndrome: “Consider the work of God” (7:13). Life is not a result of blind fate or random chance. God is over all, and He’s in control of all. We would be wise, then, to heed the Preacher’s advice: “In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him” (7:14).
We must not miss the fact that God often uses tragedy, disappointment, and sorrow to shape us into the likeness of His Son. Of course it’s natural to desire that life would be free from difficulty! But the Bible is clear: typically, more spiritual progress is made through failure, disappointment, and tears than is discovered as a result of success, laughter, and ease.
Pause for a moment and consider how God has used the hardships in your life for your spiritual benefit. You almost certainly will discover that none of your trials have been wasted and that the words of Romans 8:28 remain true: “For those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Indeed, all of your difficulties, problems, bad choices, and foolish wanderings—and your successes, too, however humble—are able to be swept up into His perfect plan and purpose for you.
This article was adapted from the sermon “In Search of Meaning” by Alistair Begg.