As chapter 8 comes to a close, the writer of Ecclesiastes voices the same concerns about fairness and equity that we pose today. His observations seem more striking when put in writing than when they are reduced to water cooler banter.
I have seen wicked people buried with honor. Yet they were the very ones who frequented the Temple and are now praised in the same city where they committed their crimes! This, too, is meaningless. When a crime is not punished quickly, people feel it is safe to do wrong. But even though a person sins a hundred times and still lives a long time, I know that those who fear God will be better off. The wicked will not prosper, for they do not fear God. Their days will never grow long like the evening shadows.
And this is not all that is meaningless in our world. In this life, good people are often treated as though they were wicked, and wicked people are often treated as though they were good. This is so meaningless!
So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun.
In my search for wisdom and in my observation of people’s burdens here on earth, I discovered that there is ceaseless activity, day and night. I realized that no one can discover everything God is doing under the sun. Not even the wisest people discover everything, no matter what they claim. (Ecclesiastes 8:10-17. NLT)
As if things couldn’t be more absurd than they are, Qoheleth points to another observation that is beyond belief. He witnessed the phenomena of wicked people being given grand funerals and burials where people stood and paid tributes and bestowed honors upon their undeserving legacies. To make matters worse, these wicked people, were active in religious practices and leadership at the Temple. Not even the ancient Temple (nor the modern day church) was a sanctuary and a respite for those who sincerely tried to actively practice their faith. Instead of setting an example for righteous living, the wicked, who were unaccountable and unchallenged, provided a model that encouraged others to follow in their footsteps.
In light of this unbelievable observation, Qoheleth offers two words of counsel. First, we must trust that God will resolve all of life’s inequities in the end. Wickedness digs its own grave, and righteousness its own garden. Because we usually don’t get to see all of God’s judgment enacted, our trust that we will be just in the end is one of the deepest acts of faith that we can express. We have to believe that we are and will be “better off.”
The second piece of advice he shares is to focus on enjoying life today. Our inability to understand God’s design for the future should not prevent us from seeking happiness in the present. We can find consolation by remembering that the mysteries we wrestle with are God’s mysteries, and not “some tale told by an idiot.” (Kidner, 79) Because God is the one who ultimately holds the answers, we can lean into him, even though there are some things that he does or allows that make us scratch our heads.