Not too long after I graduated from seminary, I had the privilege of officiating my first funeral. I knew that I would have to do a funeral eventually, but I didn’t think it would be my own grandmother’s. It was a bittersweet experience for me. My grandmother’s death was a sad time for myself and my family; she would be greatly missed. I say it was bittersweet because my grandmother was/is a believer and loved the Lord, and she is now in a much better place in the presence of Jesus. As I thought and prayed about what to say at the funeral service, I remembered the words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 7:2-4.
Ecclesiastes is Solomon’s admonition to the righteous and the unrighteous to realize that life is nothing but a waste apart from God . He admonishes his hearers to live wisely and not foolishly. Here is the wisdom of Solomon:
A Funeral Is Better Than a Party (Ecclesiastes 7:2)
Solomon is pretty blunt here in Ecclesiastes. He’s near the end of his life and there is no time to waste. He says that it is better to go to house of mourning than to a house of feasting. This is going against people’s natural human tendencies. No one wants to think about death or go to a funeral if they could instead go to a feast or a party. This is Solomon’s call to the wise.
In Solomon’s day, one did not go to a “funeral home” to view the dead and pay one’s respects. One went to the actual home of the deceased. So, when Solomon says a “house of mourning,” he is meaning literally a home that is mourning because of the loss of a loved one. Solomon says it is better to go here than a house of feasting.
Solomon tells us why in the very next sentence. Every man and woman will be the one laying in a house of mourning some day! Solomon says that this is the end of everyone. There is no escape for you, or anyone. There is no fountain of youth, no getting bitten by a pale vampire and living forever, and no amount of plastic surgery and organic foods will enable you to skip this house. Solomon repeats this truth in Ecclesiastes 9:3. He says, “…there is one fate for all men…they go to the dead.”
The Hebrew is very interesting here. Solomon uses the same verb meaning “to go” to describe one’s journey to two very different houses. The difference is in the preposition that he uses for both of these. One should look at it this way, “It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go out of a house of feasting. Going into a house of mourning causes one to evaluate oneself and their position in this world. A wise person “takes it to heart” and considers his/her own eternal destiny before God. Coming out of a house of feasting (a big party), one’s mind is dull from frivolity and drink and thinks nothing of the future.
Sorrow Is Better Than Laughter (Ecclesiastes 7:3)
Entering a house of mourning produces sadness and sorrow in a person’s heart. Solomon says that this sorrow is better than laughter that one would experience at a party. How can he say this? As one is staring face to face at the dead person in front of him, he/she cannot help but consider some basic things about life. The questions that one asks are the questions that all men ask when they come face to face with death. The word for sorrow here means “the feeling of anxiety or sadness in a distressing situation.” There is no greater distressing situation than to come face to face with one’s own mortality.
The reason that Solomon can say that the heart can be joyful when the face is sad is that he is speaking of the person who finds his salvation in God. Habakkuk 2:4 says, “the righteous shall live by faith.” The wise man or woman understands that they are affected by the sin of Adam and Eve in that they are born sinners. They see the dead and mourners around them and know that all of this is a result of the inherited sin of man. No one can escape it or better themselves because of it. Knowing that one is separated from God by one’s own inherent sinful heart and realizing one will not only die physically but face eternal judgment brings a sorrow that leads to repentance and faith. The heart can be happy because the person who has this God-given clarity about life comes to God in repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. He is born again and rescued from the kingdom of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13).
The sorrow that one experiences at a funeral is what causes men and women to think more about spiritual matters than they might ever have before.
The Truly Wise Man Considers Death (Ecclesiastes 7:4)
Solomon ends this section by elaborating on the thought in Ecclesiastes 7:2. He says in Ecclesiastes 7:4, “the mind of the wise in is the house of mourning, while the mind of the fool is in the house of pleasure.”
When the wise/righteous person lives his life, he stops to consider the things he has been confronted with at the funeral. He remembers that life on this earth is temporary, but there is an eternal life that awaits after death for those who live by faith in Jesus Christ. The fool thinks only of today and nothing of the future. His life is the endless pursuit of pleasure, whatever that may be. He is the humanist and the hedonist, the one who doesn’t want to think of death at all.
The wise man thinks about his life and asks what has he done with the days God has given him. He knows that everyone must give account to God for all he has been given. The fool refuses to acknowledge God and does not believe that he will be accountable for his actions; for in his heart he has made himself to be a god, and he can do what he wants.
The wise man knows that it is appointed for man to die once and then face judgment (Hebrews 9:27). He knows death is something he cannot escape, and yet the wise man does not fear it (Mathew 10:28). The fool does all in his power to think very little of death and judgment. He lives enslaved to his fear, his fear of death (Hebrews 2:15).
Dr William Barrick says in his commentary on Ecclesiastes, “The heart of a wise man improves his spiritual health at a funeral; while the fool dulls the sharp interruption of death by directing his heart to revelry and hilarity.”
The wise man or woman understands that every funeral that one attends is but a preview of one’s own.
I have been to quite a few funerals in my life. Everyone is different, and yet everyone is the same. There are many different ways a service is organized — different songs, different preachers, etc… Yet all funerals have this fact in common: the person that everyone is present for is dead. They have lived their lives and for them there is no coming back. For those present there is hope still…Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 9:4 that for the living “…there is hope; surely a live dog is better than a dead lion.” There is still time to reflect on the nature of man, his condition, and come to God in repentance and faith. If you are a Christian, do not forsake funerals. They are powerful reminders about the temporary nature of life. Remember Solomon’s words, “when a face is sad a heart may be joyful” (Ecclesiastes 7:3).