Joyful Living in Light of Death
“If a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity.”- Ecclesiastes 11:8
When we are young, it seems as if we will live forever. Our vigor is easily renewed. We believe that it is all but certain that there are many years ahead of us. Death is a foreign reality, something that happens only to the aged, people who are so much older than us that we hardly imagine that we are likewise drawing ever closer to our final breaths.
As we get older, however, things begin to change. The years seem to pass by more quickly. We do not bounce back from illness and injury like we used to. We see people of our own generation die. The idea that death comes to us all moves from the realm of theory to reality.
In light of our own mortality, the Preacher who wrote Ecclesiastes exhorts us to a two-fold way of living. First, we are to rejoice in the years of life that we do have (Eccl. 11:8a). The fact that we will die is not meant to put a damper on the life that we do get to live. To eat, to drink, and to rejoice in our labor is God’s gift to us (3:13). Life with the spouse whom we love is likewise a precious thing to be treasured (9:9). Although Scripture paints the life to come in heaven as more wonderful than we can possibly imagine (1 Cor. 2:9), it does not tell us the joys of our life in the here and now are worthless. These joys are part of the vanity of the present life (Eccl. 11:8b), that is, they are fleeting and sometimes unpredictable. Yet we are to find appropriate pleasure in them as part of fearing God and keeping His commandments (12:13–14). The Lord does not call us to a rigid asceticism that casts a suspicious eye on those things in creation that bring us delight; rather, He exhorts us never to put these things first in our hearts (Ex. 20:3).
Still, as we are called to enjoy our present lives, we must not forget that death is coming. The Preacher’s second exhortation is to “remember that the days of darkness will be many” (Eccl. 11:8a). The “days of darkness” refers to the time spent in the darkness of the grave. We rejoice in light of knowing that death is coming. Then, we will not rejoice with our wives or in our eating and drinking, for we will have died and will have no access to earthly pleasures. Therefore, we should rejoice not in trivialities but in what provides lasting joy. More importantly, we must prepare for our deaths, knowing that we will meet our Maker and that we will be commended for rejoicing only in those things that He blesses.
Matthew Henry comments on today’s passage, “Notwithstanding the long continuance of life, and the many comforts of it, yet we must remember the days of darkness, because those will certainly come, and they will come with much the less terror if we have thought of them before.” If we are unprepared to meet our Creator, death will be a terror for us. But if we think on our deaths, realize our sin, and turn to Christ, we will not be afraid.
Passages for Further Study