Summary: We are encouraged to trust God even when things don't add up.
One Bible commentator says of our text for today, “This is one of those passages that sets preachers to pacing in their studies, wringing their hands: What does it mean? How do we preach it?”
Another commentator says of the first part of today’s text (7:15-24), “It is hard to be satisfied with any commentary on this section; it is very difficult to understand.” And of the second part of today’s text (7:25-29) he says, “This is one of the more difficult and perhaps one of the more notorious passages in Ecclesiastes.”
And yet, even though our text for today is difficult to understand, it is nevertheless an extremely relevant passage that deals with some of the most perplexing questions we have: Why do some good people die young while some evil people live to a ripe old age?
In his quest to find out how to live a meaningful life the writer of Ecclesiastes addresses the issue of how to act in a paradoxical world.
Let us read Ecclesiastes 7:15-29:
15 In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. 16 Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? 17 Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? 18 It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them.
19 Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.
20 Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.
21 Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. 22 Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.
23 All this I have tested by wisdom. I said, “I will be wise,” but it was far from me. 24 That which has been is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out?
25 I turned my heart to know and to search out and to seek wisdom and the scheme of things, and to know the wickedness of folly and the foolishness that is madness. 26 And I find something more bitter than death: the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and whose hands are fetters. He who pleases God escapes her, but the sinner is taken by her. 27 Behold, this is what I found, says the Preacher, while adding one thing to another to find the scheme of things— 28 which my soul has sought repeatedly, but I have not found. One man among a thousand I found, but a woman among all these I have not found. 29 See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes. (Ecclesiastes 7:15-29)
My favorite movie is Chariots of Fire. It is the story of Eric Liddell, who won a gold medal in the 400-meter race at the 1924 Olympics in Paris, France.
After the Olympics he became a missionary to China. He was a wonderful and godly man. He was also much loved, so much so that the Chinese erected a monument to him after his death. (And I also understand that the Chinese are currently producing a movie as a tribute to his life and service to them.) Eric Liddell was so popular in his day that when he left Edinburgh for China in 1925, thousands of people went to the port just to get a glimpse of him boarding the ship so that they could wish him farewell.
But, do you know the rest of the story? During World War II he was taken prisoner and was among the two thousand people who were crowded into a Japanese internment camp in China. Before his arrest, Liddell managed to get his wife, Florence, and two children to safety in Canada. (She was pregnant at the time with their third daughter, whom Eric would never see.)
Unfortunately, however, just before the end of World War II, Eric Liddell developed a brain tumor. Because of the war he was not able to get appropriate medical attention, and he died several weeks later. He was just forty-two years old when he died.
How could that possibly be? Eric Liddell was a godly man who lived for the glory of Christ. He was a tremendous testimony to the grace of God. He was able to influence thousands of people to consider the claims of the gospel. Why should a young man who was making a difference for Christ die at such a young age? Why not have ungodly, wicked men have brain tumors die at forty-two?