Chapter three began with the idea that there can be a purpose in life but also tells us that after we have been born, there is a time to die. Following that declaration, there follows a litany of seemingly opposite accounts of issues that face most of us, and it goes back and forth from one kind of action to another so that we realize that even the most brilliant (as Solomon) do not have a perpetual single episode in life that can confine us to boredom. Who would want a perpetual stay in the hospital or a continuous Spring or Winter?
This movement to and fro is “better” (a word he uses some twenty-three times in different ways) then the endless circling of chapter one. However, it does have some unsettling implications for life. Some- times we must dance to a tune that we do not like. Someone else may call for a song we do not know or recognize.
For the believer, all of life’s experiences can have meaning, purpose and will define life. The guy next door may sing a tune or dance or have an experience, but for him it will be meaningless because he is living life “under the sun”. His life offers no final fulfillment even though he may be enjoying his activity while “going in circles”.
A time for this and a time for that may become oppressive if what he pursues has no permanence. Our responses to life may be no freer than our responses to the weather. How freely can we choose what happens to us? Our choices and their ultimate satisfaction must be related to the One “above the sun” in order to not be oppressive.
Sometimes we have very little to say in the circumstances which tend to move us to laugh or cry or to mourn or dance. We may tend to try to find reality in a realm beyond the constant change we face.
That is the position the author finds himself in chapter four. “Again, I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun.” (Verse 1) Life is harsh no matter where we see it. His complaints of “I saw” (used four times here) seem to threaten the Sovereignty of God. Isn’t there anything God can do to alleviate to oppression and the oppressors? Is the Sovereign God, whom he admonishes us to “remember” in our youth, powerless to end earthly rivalries, hardships, conflicts and isolation? (Chapter 12:1)
Is our experience to be that of Job who was condemned by his friends? Is our righteousness meaningless also? The scenarios in chapter four outline many of the things each member of the human race faces in the quest for happiness and satisfaction. It all seems to work against us. He gives some solutions but they appear quite inadequate to satisfy us in our quest for safety and happiness. In the end, death seems to be the only solution to life’s enigmas.
In this section of his journal (3:16-4:12), Solomon notes that there is wickedness in the courts (3:16-17); men and beasts all die alike (3:18-21); men are oppressed (4:1-3); men are contentious (4:4-6); men are isolated (4:7-12); and popularity and fame are tenuous at best and one can ‘go down’ faster than one can ‘rise to the top’ (4:13-16).
The hint in verse 5 that to drop out is a solution is quickly assuaged (softened) by the mention that to do so is to think and act as a fool. His “better” solutions in the passage do not, mostly, appear to be much different in the final analysis. The entire text of chapter 4 fails to poke any holes in the canopy “under the sun” in order to display any presence of a God above the sun.
The truths, suggestions and advice of the chapter fail to offer any satisfaction at these different levels. If any of them offered even a minimal amount of gratification, none of them would survive the acid trial of death. Even the “better” solutions offer nothing but meaninglessness (verses 4,7,8 and 16).
In spite of all the advantages of the 21st century, we still live in a society that is filled with sorrow and pain and suffering. The ancients did not have near the conveniences and comforts that we enjoy. The question so often raise: “How can there be a (good) God with all this going on?” It is one of the oldest questions the skeptics raise.
It is no accident that Jesus was called a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief”. When God sent His Son into the world, He sent Him to those who were lost; those who were in pain; those who were suffering. We have been redeemed to minister to those people and we have been ordained as priests before God. We must not forget that the very road to our redemption was the “via de la rosa”, the way of sorrows that our Savior walked to redeem us.
We all have a measure of sorrow and tribulation but God has ordained that we enjoy what we receive from Him. We are not to look for or exalt sorrow, or make it meritorious, but we are to minister to it. We are to acknowledge the ultimate victory of Jesus over death, sorrow, sin and grief.
Jesus said: “Be of good courage, for I have overcome the world.” That is not blind courage, He gives us a reason for our joy and we can recommend His salvation to the whole world without hesitation, doubt or apology. It is not just one of many remedies, it is the only remedy for sin, sorrow and suffering.