What’s So Good about a Funeral?
My wife’s grandmother passed away 2 weeks ago at the age of 77. When I was asked to preach the funeral sermon, I was humbled and began preparing diligently for it. While studying several passages, one jumped out at me and forever changed my view of death and mourning.
“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind and the living will lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” –Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 ESV.
Most seem to look at Ecclesiastes as a book of pessimistic cynicism. Many of us fail to glean the rich wisdom of Solomon, because we get caught up in the apparent “negativity”. I think one reason for this is our view of sorrow and suffering often fails to fit in with our idea of a loving God. Sorrow and suffering are things that we normally try to avoid or escape at all costs. It’s quite common for us to even despise these things. Many of us have an improper theology of suffering/mourning. That’s why passages like these pose quite a paradigm shift in thinking.
Funerals over Feasts? (Verse 2)
Solomon’s words aren’t an invitation to a morbid death fanaticism! I doubt that when Solomon punched his “Kingly” time card at the end of the day, he decided to forgo taking a dip in one of his famous pools to frequent the late night “funeral scene”. But he makes it clear that it’s better to go to a funeral than a party. Why? I think that one reason is that God gets our undivided attention regarding life and death.
Over the past 2 weeks, I’ve preached at a funeral for one person (77 years), and attended the viewing for another (41 years) and I couldn’t help but ponder 2 things:
1. The age ranges between these two women underscore that time isn’t promised and shouldn’t be taken for granted.
2. Death is inevitable. We are all going to end up in the same state as the one we see in the coffin. We are all going to have people mourning our death.
Throughout Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, Solomon frequently compares the wise man and the fool. This passage is one way he does it. Wise people go to funerals and pay attention. Wise people see the Tsunami horrors and watch and think carefully. Wise people know the days are few and each day they live is an opportunity to learn and to grow in wisdom and should invest in those things that are most profitable for them, and they constantly uncover those hidden treasures of the heart. For you and I this should be Christ.
Sorrow is better than laughter (Verse 3)
Have you ever been around someone that laughs at everything, even when it isn’t appropriate? Fools want to laugh at everything. Solomon tells us in chapter 3, that there is a time to laugh and a time to cry. There are times that the wise person must go through times of sorrow and it is better than laughter.
Contrary to popular belief, Sorrow Is Necessary! It is often ordered by God for the destruction of sin, which is the chief problem of the Christian. Sorrow is the great conqueror of cavalier and half-hearted affections for God. Sorrow brings to the surface how delighted we really are (or aren’t) in God. When we mourn or are sorrowful we are reminded how shallow their joy in God is or how rich it is. We also are reminded how thankful we are for temporary troubles which will produce greater trust, greater faith, greater dependency upon the all-sufficient grace of God, great desire to arrest God with all our strength and not release Him.
The fact of the matter is that sorrow teaches us lessons that would not be learned any other way. You may recall the scene in The Wizard of Oz, where the Tin Man says, “”Hearts will never be practical until they are made unbreakable.” Well, as great at the movie was/is, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Solomon says that the opposite case is actually true. It is the fact that hearts are fragile that makes them practical.
Sorrow often leads to repentance. Repentance of sin is deeply painful, but it is required as necessary to salvation. Repentance of sin is a sorrow stemming from vision of who God is (glorious and merciful), and our awareness that we fall short of His glory and don’t deserve His mercy.
This sorrow doesn’t have to end on a low note, though. It should result in sustaining and lasting pleasure since not only do we find pleasure in seeing the glory and mercy of God in Christ, we find pleasure when we repent and sense God’s grace acting upon us to satisfy us, to purge us of pursing other things above Him, and to land us safely into the hands of our Savior.
Repentance is a sweet sorrow. The more of the sorrow we possess, the more pleasure in God and His mercy we attain.
There is a distinct difference between just being sorry and being biblically sorrowful (repentant). Many of us are sorry that we’ve disobeyed or failed to honor God, but only because we are sorry that we’ve been caught. Or we’re sorry that we didn’t receive the blessings or rewards that sometimes follow obedience and holiness. This isn’t biblical repentance though.
My youngest daughter, Audrey, has an incredibly tender heart. Although she’s only 21 months, she’s keenly aware of my approval, or disapproval. Often times, if I scold her for disobeying, she lowers herself to the floor and begins to cry. Usually she starts crying before I even show her why I’m reprimanding her. She isn’t broken over the fact that she didn’t get that fruit snack that she was earnestly endeavoring to pilfer. She is broken over the fact that she is displeasing me, and she badly wants my approval again. This is true sorrowful repentance.
True sorrow is being broken over the sin of not enjoying god the way we should. We are broken for not having God as our treasure that completely satisfies. How do you know if you are truly biblically sorrowful? You have to really want holiness because obeying God is actually precious in itself. We should find ourselves weeping sorrowfully over not possessing God as your treasure.
Sometimes, the only way to receive joy, is to endure sorrow and pain. And sorrow is perfectly fine, as long as it’s directed toward God and not away from Him.
Pain or Pleasure? (Verse 4)
What do you do when painful sorrow is coming? Do you try to insulate yourself with distractions (food, alcohol, entertainment, sex, etc) so that you don’t have to think about it? Solomon tells us that “the heart of the wise is in the house of mourning”. The wise person isn’t running from their problems in bars, buffets, box offices, or brothels. They are willing to voluntarily remain in the stream of sorrow. Why? It’s not like they are sadomasochistic “sorrow-seekers”! It’s because they realize that it is good contemplate the weight and gravity of the pain, grief and sorrow in this world.
Fools get drunk, go to nightclubs, graze at a buffet line, because they refuse to go through the hard stuff of life. Further, they try to ignore it by throwing a party. This is not what needs to happen when God ordains sorrow in our lives.
God expects that we will drink the cup of sorrow and exchange being drunk on pleasure with immersing ourselves in God and become intoxicated in Him.
What’s wrong with distractions? Why not do what we believe is necessary to dull the pain and sorrow? Diversions don’t allow for us to be shaped into the kind of man or woman that God intends. Wise people know that the house of mourning will produce a true joy and a lasting countenance because the house of mourning should lead us to Christ.
I leave you with these questions: How do you respond to sorrow and pain? How do you view sorrow and pain? Do you see it as always a sign of God’s disfavor? Can you receive joy from your sorrow?