A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth. It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure. Ecclesiastes 7:1-4.
Working at a good name takes perspiration more often than not, for there are plenty of people out there with reputation hatchets willing to chop your actions up or give them a slant they don’t deserve.
So now you know my first reaction to the text centered on the reputation thing…
My second reaction turned to the context and connections a good name came with. I don’t think Solomon’s purpose is to just randomly throw out platitudes, though these ideas might seem to have nothing to do with a good name. The rest of verse one and the other three turn our attention to death, sorrow and the attitude of the wise. It is no coincidence he first speaks of a good name then turns our attention to the place of death and sorrow.
The idea being to show what is good in life while revealing the only way to appreciate it fully. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure. The word “fools” as we discussed before is one who is morally deficient. The heart of a person is the essence of their being (the self) in a sense; the mind and attention, if you will. It’s the essence of the internal person. So the wise think about the reality with a certain soberness in order to bring value to living as much as possible. The fools chase pleasure as if it were the answer to the futility wise men speak of so eloquently. Now this doesn’t mean wisdom keeps laughter at bay rather it means we don’t lose sight of reality for the sake of a laugh.
Solomon declares that neither wisdom nor foolishness actually solves the problem of death and loss—that which makes everything meaningless—however, pursuing wisdom and healthy enjoyment of everything being “alive” means brings a specific fulfillment to it the other won’t. If I plant good things into my son, on my deathbed with him near me I’ll be able to see the fruit of my work in him. Passing on the value of life and living in such a way as to value those along the road is the point.
Knowing the destiny of every man doesn’t necessarily mean we have to be morose and I don’t get this from the author’s diatribe on laughter’s comparison to the crackling of thorns either. What makes more sense is that fools pursue pleasure minus substance of reality. A person who drinks alcohol for enjoyment does so in moderation in order to also enjoy other things; a person who drinks alcohol for any other reason tends to be headed for disaster. Narcissists have a propensity for excess, all for the sake of feeling good or getting whatever high they can sustain. That’s why people stay drunk for long periods of time, they want to sustain their “high” indefinitely. The problem, as I mentioned before, is that once we remain intoxicated or high at a certain level it begins to feel “normal” which means to feel any different we have to do more to notice a change.
Fools look for the sustained high and do their best to make that the norm of life. Unfortunately, they either ignore or refuse to deal with the variety in life. For instance, not to be gross, but when we eat food or drink water we must eliminate it sometime then repeat. The wonderful tastes we put in our mouth must also hold some nutrition or we are taking in empty calories. Children don’t care because they would eat candy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; conscientious parents recognize this and make candy or sweets a reward for eating other foods more nutritious. There’s nothing wrong with candy as a treat but it can’t be a meal. Fools, however, believe or want to believe they should always get candy and nothing else.
Death is the destiny of everyone, therefore recognizing it either brings despair or purpose. A person who gives into despair might become bitter, or they might just go narcissistic. The motives won’t matter to the outcome really because both mindsets (and everything else in between) end with death and no quality of life. Those who find a purpose learn to enjoy everything life offers while they live. This attitude doesn’t single out one specific thing and obsess over it but concentrates on bringing quality living to all aspects. Since we are alive and here on earth, the purpose minded decide to make the best of the few years given by creating a good name and heritage.
As followers of Jesus we do this in His context, with His mindset and attitude. Our lives are not futile nor are we hopeless anymore. So, understanding what life is without the hope of the cross opens our minds up to what a gift we have been given in Christ Jesus.