How do we make sense of the wisdom found in Ecclesiastes 7? For those of you who have been at the hospital for a birth and at the funeral of a loved one, the comparison, “the day of death better than the day of birth” (Ecclesiastes 7:2) seems obviously untrue. Solomon persists, telling us, “Frustration is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:3). To me, this differs from James’ pointed wisdom years later when he calls us to, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3). We may understand when the Bible tells us that suffering can produce good virtue in us, but to assert that sadness is good for my health, physical or spiritual, is hard to stomach. How do we make sense of wise Solomon’s strange wisdom?
When parts of Ecclesiastes are hard to grasp, it is key to remember how this entire book has been shaping us. If someone asked me to summarize Ecclesiastes with one word, I would choose “perspective”. Solomon has been helping us develop a proper perspective on our world, our lives, and our future, thus inviting us to value what is important and reject the vain. Part and parcel of such perspective is to have circumspection about our hopes and honest appraisal of our common fates. Such perspective helps moderate our emotions in the ups and downs. With such perspective, we are off of life’s emotional roller coasters, which is good for our hearts and blood pressure.