Facing the Day of Adversity (Sermon)
Updated: Apr 15, 2020
Have you ever thought about the benefits of suffering? Maybe you’ve seen that in your own life. You pass through an ordeal of some kind, and often find on the other side all the good that has come through it. Post-traumatic growth. It’s from the stress and pressure of difficulty that the diamonds of wisdom and virtue emerge. But suffering doesn’t inevitably bring these benefits; sometimes suffering makes people bitter and angry and despairing. Which reminds us that suffering isn’t inherently good, but the decisive factor is how we encounter suffering. It not just suffering that leads to wisdom, but suffering which is rightly endured. Rightly enduring suffering, that’s the skill that Solomon wants to teach in this passage.
CONTEXT: Solomon had been discussing enjoying God in the day of wealth and prosperity (5:8-6:9), but now enjoying God in affliction and in “the day of adversity” (7:14). And the point he’s driving us towards is this…
In the day of adversity, we should not meditate on the adversity itself, so much as we meditate on the sovereignty of God in it.
This bit of wisdom unfolds through three distinct sections in the text 1) prologue on sovereignty 2) poem of paradox and 3) conclusion: consider the work of God.
1. Prologue on Sovereignty (6:10-12)
This first brief section in vv. 10-12 begins, “Whatever has come to be has already been named.” In the OT when God names a person or a thing, he’s appointing it for a specific purpose. And that reality applies to everything that comes about in our lives. God has named the events of your life. Whatever has already come to be. Whatever will come to be. God has named the events of your life. “Whatever has come to be has already been named [by God for you].”
This is simply what is taught all over the Bible. The very first words of the Bible tell us “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” He brought the universe into existence to begin with, and all that happens, transpires not only under his gaze but also under his control. R. C. Sproul, “There are no maverick molecules.” Down to the cellular and molecular level, God exercises his authority.
The Westminster Confession says, “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.” That’s the doctrine that Ecc 6:10 teaches us, framing it here as God’s naming the events of our life. There’s a certain intimacy. God named Adam and Eve. Only parents would name their children. You don’t go around naming other people’s children. God has named the events of your life. He’s ordained them, and called them to come forward specifically for you.
That may be comforting to some of you, to think that God has named the events of your life, makes you feel safe. But for some, it may be very discomforting. Has God really “named” the hard things in your life? Has God even appointed this cancer, you hate your job, you lost your job, you lost a loved one to death, or some other difficulty—has God named these things too? We hesitate to pin such things on God, but where do they come from?
Well there are two errors we want to avoid in answering that question. The first error would be to think that God doesn’t stand behind evil in any ways. The second error would be to think that he stands behind good and evil in the same way. “We are driven to conclude that…he stands behind good and evil asymmetrically.”
While the Bible always attributes good things and blessings to the hand of God (Every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, James 1:16-17). On the other hand, evil things, broken things, hard things, are always and inevitably attributed to secondary agents and their effects. Job’s affliction was from Satan, but God never loses control. He keeps his hands on the wheel.
When Joseph suffered so much affliction at the hand of his brothers, they bore the guilt of that. And yet Joseph said, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” He remains good and accomplishes good even through the evil that is brought about by secondary agents. The moon is always round, even when we can only see a sliver, or when it is completely hidden, it’s always there and it’s always round. And we cannot always see how God’s goodness is operating, but he’s always there and always good.
God has named the events of your life. Then Solomon poses three questions that challenge us further, not being heartless but seeking to help us encounter suffering with wisdom.
A. What advantage is disputing?
You see this in vv. 10-11, “…it is known what man is, and that he is not able to dispute with one stronger than he.  The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man?” Solomon had said “Let your words be few in worship, and now he says, “Let your words be few in adversity.” Don’t complain; disputing does no good. Some say venting is good, which is true when you’re stoking fires, but not when you’re trying to put them out.
That’s why Paul says, “Do all things without murmurings and disputings” (Philippians 2:14). Suffering is hard, but complaining doesn’t make it easier. Complaining doesn’t make you feel better. It doesn’t change the circumstances. It doesn’t attract the aid of others. And most importantly it doesn’t elicit God’s help, but rather his displeasure. God hates complaining. It’s an attack on his will. Israel had just come out of years of slavery, and they were in the wilderness, but even in such adverse circumstances, where we might just expect sympathy, God severely punishes their regular pattern of complaining.
This doesn’t feel sympathetic, but there is a kind of sympathy that really doesn’t help people. Like flattery is deceitful, there is a kind of deceitful sympathy also. And Solomon’s sympathy here is simply meant to be the kind of sympathy that actually does help. It’s honest. You will be helped in suffering to remember that it is no advantage to dispute with God and complain against him. What advantage is complaining? None. Of course the psalms give us a category for lament, but lament is expressing our distress to God with trust, complaining is expressing distrust to God with stress. There is no advantage in complaining.
B. Who knows what is good for you?
And the second question he asks is, “Who knows what is good for you?” Look at v. 12, “For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow?” (v. 12a). Our vision of what is good for us never includes pain and suffering, but here Solomon suggest we aren’t good forecasters of what is good for us. You know how WRAL loves to make blizzards out of flurries. But so often there’s way too much hype. Our ability to forecast weather is good but limited. And we are maybe even worse at forecasting what is good for us. Actually it’s the hard stuff that God so often uses to make us better. You see someone who is humble, empathetic, gentle, slow to anger…that’s probably a person who’s seen their fair share of suffering.
C. What happens after life under the sun?
And then the third question is, What happens after life under the sun. You see this at the end of v. 12, “For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun?” (v. 12b). Suffering has an expiration date. Both pleasure and pain will come to an end. As God has named the events of your life, so he has named the extent of your life. But Solomon stops short of answer this question. What comes next? He doesn’t say. Throughout the whole book, he’s so focused on life under the sun, that he always stops short of talking about eternity, but here he hints at it, brining us right up to the edge, this life will come to an end, and only in eternity will all the events God named for our life under the sun finally make sense to us. Søren Kierkegaard, “Life is lived forward, but must be understood backwards.” It will all make sense to us from the perspective of what come after this life, and therefore we entrust ourselves to whatever God has named for us.
As you observe what has come to pass in your life, God has named it for you. He knows what is good for you and he knows what is next for you. And with this introductory thought in mind, Solomon turns next to a poem of paradox. A series of “better-than” proverbs that teach us how to embrace the day of adversity rather than despise it. This is the second big section moving from 7:1-12. And here Solomon tells us what it is that is good for us.
2. A Poem of Paradox (7:1-12)
When 6:12 asks, “Who knows what is good for man?” There are several implied responses. First, we ourselves don’t know. Second, God does know. Third, this whole poem gives some of God’s answers. This poem is really built around the word “good” or “better.” What is good or better for us.
Chesterton said that a paradox is “truth standing on her head calling for attention.” There are five “better-than” paradoxes in this poem, and in some ways they form the progression of it. Death is better than birth (v. 1), mourning is better than feasting (v. 2), sorrow is better than laughter (vv. 3-4), rebuke is better than song (vv. 5-7), the end is better than the beginning, (vv. 8-10), and all this is crucial to gaining wisdom (vv. 11-12).
First, death better than birth (v. 1)
“A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth.” For the one who has been building a good reputation, the day of death is mission accomplished. Good reputation has been secured and left behind. When a new high-rise building is going up, no one celebrates when the foundations have been dug. The ribbon cutting, the grand celebration comes when the building is finished.
This idea underscores the importance of thinking about life with the day of death constantly on our minds. I have a note in my prayer journal that I look at every morning that says, “Remember the moment of my death, live today to face death and then Jesus without regrets.” Live with your kids today as if this is your final day with them. Live with your spouse today as if this is you final day. Serve the body of Christ today, pursue purity and honor, and the advancement of God’s kingdom as though today were your last opportunity to do it.
And then when death comes, we remember. We knew all along this day was coming. We were preparing all along for this day. We didn’t know when it would come, but we were getting ready. “To live is Christ, to die is gain.”
Jesus remains the best example this. Jesus lived with the constant and conscious goal of facing his day of death. Luke 9:51, “Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up [into heaven], that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem” (KJV). And then he says on the cross, “It is finished.” He lived in submission to the work God had named for his life. Thus, embodying and affirming Ecclesiastes 7:1, “The day of death is better than the day of birth.”
Second, mourning better than feasting (v. 2, 4)
“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, [why??] for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” And you see this same thought repeated in v. 4, “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” The house of mourning, that’s where you find the wise.
The “house of mourning” here probably refers to a home, a family that’s just lost someone they love and they are grieving. When you see someone in that situation, it is better for you to be with them, than it is for you to be at a birthday party or some other family celebration. A funeral is better than a party. Parties and feasting can be distractions, but at a funeral we are faced with the reality of brevity.
Funeral days are good because we’re all headed the same place. So don’t miss opportunities to go to funerals when members of our church die, those are good times of us to gather and remember this will be our end also, and so we pray with Psalm 90, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Ps 90:9-12).
Third, sorrow better than laughter (v. 3)
“Sorrow is better than laughter; for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.” Now this is different than the mourning of vv. 2 and 4. The word sorrow is not grieving sad sorrow, but more angry, frustrated sorrow in light of the vanity of life under the sun. Think of Solomon pouring himself wealth, great works, women and pleasure and coming up empty at the end, feeling the sorrow of frustration. A countenance is troubled, your brow furrowed, recognizing the frustrating, even maddening circumstances of life, but in seeing this, the heart, the inner self (more important than what your face shows) is made well.
Pessimists in the room, you love this verse. You feel justified here. Now I hate to tell you this, but the rest of us don’t like being with pessimists. We like positive people, I try to be a positive person, maybe you do also. But we can’t achieve joy through denial, that’s the way of foolishness. So as much as it pains me to say it, there is an element of wisdom in pessimism.
But which one is better? Now often in friendship or in a marriage, there’s the positive person and the pessimist. Which one is better? The wisdom of Solomon here suggests that both have something to gain from one another. Better than being either a pessimist or an optimist, is to have a disposition large enough to embrace the paradox of life’s frustrations without forgetting that God reigns over all things and has not lost control.
When the day of adversity comes, the pessimist may descend into a deep dark pit, a bog that sucks them down into murky despair, apart from a wise friend, who can acknowledge the pain and frustration of life and yet stay afloat with a hearts that has learned from it.
The sorrow of frustration is turned into the joy of wisdom by meditating not on the adversity itself so much as we meditate on the sovereignty of God in it.
Fourth, rebuke better than song (v. 5-7)
“It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools.  For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fools; this also is vanity.  [For] surely oppression drives the wise into madness, and a bribe corrupts the heart.”
What a picture, a fool will eloquently commend foolishness. But their laughing is the crackling of thorns under a pot. Thorns are useless for getting a fire going. Some thorns will produce some noise, flicker and smoke, but that’s useless for cooking dinner.
What’s needed, the logs will really produce fire, what’s really useful, is the challenging rebuke from someone who has wisdom. Children receive discipline, children in the room, who likes to be disciplined by your parents? No one. We don’t naturally like that. Adults aren’t altogether different, we don’t like to be rebuked, but remember Prov 27:6, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” The wounds of a friend are healing.
If you’re about to make a wrong turn, you want the person in the navigators seat next to you to tell you, Wrong way, don’t turn here. To reject rebuke is to claim perfection. As if you’re never wrong. Even Peter the apostle and foundation of the church was corrected by Paul (Gal. 2:11-13). Determine to receive correction with humble consideration, even gratitude. It may save your life.
Did you know God sends rebuke as well? In the form of the Holy Spirit’s conviction. Both as we read his word, as we listen to it preached, and even through the faithful wounds of a friends, when our heart/conscience is pierced, it’s the rebuke of God.
Fifth, end better than beginning (v. 8-10)
“Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.  Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools.  Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.”
Christ Connection: Paradoxes of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus also teaches by paradox just like Solomon. The Beatitudes in the sermon on the mount sound very similar, Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted; Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. But whereas Solomon focuses solely on “life under the sun,” by contrast, Jesus pushes our hope into eternity.
Wisdom as inheritance (vv. 11-12)
Living wisely according to these five paradoxes is better than getting an inheritance. Who wouldn’t want a windfall, a million dollars that unexpected comes to you as an inheritance. Money brings a certain protection from the uncertainties of life. The emergency fund. When something unexpectedly happens, money solves the problem, it’s the buffer from the hardships of life, right? But listen to verses 11-12: “Wisdom is good with an inheritance, an advantage to those who see the sun.  For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.”
These paradoxes are suited to the nature of things. We’ll all die, so it must be better to acknowledge that than to ignore it. We all make mistakes so it must be better to receive wise rebuke. And yet we resist admitting that we have flaws, or admitting the brevity.
We will not arrive at this wisdom apart from divine intervention. God’s Spirit shows up and teaches us humility as we consider death. God’s Spirit teaches us to repent when we hear rebuke.
This poem takes difficulties of life—death, sorrow, rebuke and the end of things—and describes them as “the better,” the things to be preferred. That’s the paradox this poem reflects on. This leads to the obvious conclusion, the third stage of his thought developed, found in vv. 13-14, which is this: Consider the work of God.
3. Consider the Work of God (7:13-14)
You see this conclusion in vv. 13-14, look there. “Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked? In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.”
The conclusion? In light of the fact that God has named the events of our lives, and in light of the fact that paradoxically, difficulty is actually better than ease for us, the conclusion is to consider the work of God. When God makes something crooked for you, when you face the day of adversity, Solomon says simply, Consider the crooked thing to be the work of God. Consider the day of adversity to be the work of God. This is how we rightly endure the day of adversity.
Thomas Boston (Scottish pastor in the early 1700s) wrote a book called The Crook in Your Lot. Your “lot” meaning your lot in life, and the crook being anything that feel like affliction, anything that disturbs you. Boston had a few crooks in his lot. When Thomas was a child his father had been thrown in prison for religious reasons, and young Thomas spent much time as a child laying in that prison to keep his father from loneliness. As an adult, Boston and his wife lost six of their ten children, and his wife suffered mental illness. So when he reflected on this verse—“Who can make straight what God has made crooked?”—he had experienced a few crooked things.
Thomas Boston draws three points of doctrine from this brief verse:
1. Whatever the crook is in your lot, it is of God’s making.
So, “[Look at] the first cause of the crook in your lot; behold how it is the work of God, his doing.” This mirrors the verses we began with (6:10-12) affirming God’s authority and control over all things. Psalm 111:2 says, “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.” All of his works are great, all of his works should be studied, and all of his works should be delighted in.
2. What God sees fit to mar, one will not be able to mend his lot.
Let me first say this is not strict passivity. Let’s say you’re single, and that feels like an affliction to you because you want to be married. Of course you should pray that God provide a spouse, you may legitimately engage in seeking a spouse. Or perhaps you learn of some sickness, of course you may pray to be healed, and you may seek remedy. And yet all the while, we resolve to resign ourselves to the will of God.
This is a hard mixture, to groan under affliction and seek by all lawful and godly means to come out from under it, and yet at the same time to be happily resigned to God’s good will, to be content in him. This is a great mystery. But grace teaches us this. Philippians 4:11–13, “ I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” The secret of facing adversity, through Christ who strengthens me, what God calls us to he strengthens us for. So rather than resisting his will, we should aim our effort at drawing strength from Christ for contentment. What God sees fit to mar, we will not be able to mend.
3. The considering of the crook in the lot, as the work of God, or of his making, is a proper means to bring one to a Christian deportment under it.
In adversity, we often become myopic, we can’t see any further than the adversity. We think about it constantly, how did it feel yesterday, how might it feel tomorrow, what if things get worse, when will it get better, what do others think, why don’t others help more, we review he adversity from every possible angle.
But what Solomon teaches us here is that in the day of adversity, we should not meditate on the adversity itself, so much as we meditate on the sovereignty of God in it. This should lead us to ask, If God has made this crook, how does God want me to respond? What does he want me to learn? How can I be faithful to him in the midst of this? These thoughts should be predominant in our minds.
Then in v. 14 we hear this conclusion restated Again, v. 14, “In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.”
Why would God make days of adversity? Well obviously God created paradise to begin with. In the garden of Eden there were no days of adversity. And in God’s eternal presence there will be no days of adversity. But as for life under the sun, days of adversity are the defining feature. Life is hard, painful.
And so the question backs up a bit, why would God create a world, even if it was perfect in the beginning, in which days of adversity would come? If God knew there would be so much suffering and injustice and pain, why would we create to begin with?
This is why, because the glory of the end outweighs the suffering of the present. Robert Reymond (a theologian who died in 2013) said, “The ultimate end which God decreed he regarded as great enough and glorious enough that it justified to himself both the divine plan itself and the ordained incidental evil arising along the foreordained path to his plan’s great and glorious end.” The end will be so magnificent that God is justified even in creating a path where evil arises along the way.
In Romans 8:18, Paul says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Or in 2 Cor 4:17, he puts it this way, “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” The glory of the end outweighs the suffering of the present.
When Ecclesiastes says, “Who can make straight what he has made crooked?” It sounds like despair and stoic resignation, no one can undo the crooked.
GOSPEL: But there is another answer to that question, which is that God himself can and will in the end make straight what has been crooked. This is what the kingdom of heaven is all about. As you read through the stories of Jesus in the book of Matthew, making straight what’s crooked is what he does. He instantly heals the leper, he touches Peter’s mother-in-law and the fever is gone, he calms the storm, he heals the crooked legs, he touches the woman with an issue of blood and says, “Take heart, daughter, your faith has made you well.”
And all of that is a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven will do. We are promised that the world to come will transform these light momentary troubles into an eternal glory that outweighs them all. We have the hope of eternal wholeness.
And best of all Jesus goes to the cross and removes God’s wrath against our sin. He mends what we have marred: fellowship with God.
Listen, we won’t get our response to adversity right every time. We see the wisdom of Solomon here, but often we feel more like the fool than the wise in the way we react to suffering. But Jesus faced all the adversity the Father had named for him without a word of complaint, without a single hard thought, he always had a heart full of contentment to the Father. And by Faith in Jesus we become like that paralytic man, or the leper…not just that our bodies are temporarily set straight, but that our sins are forgiven and our relationship with the Father made whole.
Thus Jesus strengthens us for contentment in the day of adversity (as we noted before), but he forgives our failings on the day of adversity as well. So that we come to the Father not because we are shining/inspiring examples of perfection, but because we are dependent on Christ, who pleased the Father perfectly in the face of adversity. 
God has named the events of your life. And though it is paradoxical, what is actually better for us is to encounter death, mourning, sorrow and rebuke. For through these we learn humility before God. We cannot make straight what he has made crooked, and he has made the day of adversity.
In the day of adversity then, don’t meditate on the adversity itself, so much as you reflect upon the kindness of Jesus and the sovereignty of God in it.
This sermon was originally preached at Christ Covenant Church (Raleigh, NC) in March 2020.
 This view is in contrast to Craig Bartholomew’s interpretation, that the phrase is a parallel idea to 1:9, “nothing new under the sun” (see NIV Zondervan Study Bible notes). Rather, the view held here—that naming refers to God naming all circumstances—reflects the interpretation of Max Rogland (ESV Study Bible notes).  R. C. Sproul, Chosen by God,  D. A. Carson, Praying with Paul, 135.  Tremper Longman, “The connective For may be taken as the motive clause of 7:6c,” The Book of Ecclesiastes (NICOT), 186.  “As my exposition below will demonstrate…vv. 13-14 operate as a kind of conclusion to the whole unit [7:1-14]… Verses 13 and 14 provide a kind of conclusion to the proverbs that precede them… Also, the words ‘good’ and ‘day’ serve as an inclusion to the opening and closing of the section [7:1-14],” (Tremper Longman, The Book of Ecclesiastes (NICOT), 179, 180).  The “so that” here does not indicate the purpose for which God has made days of adversity, but rather indicates a result. Because God is sovereign in making both days, we are not able to find out his reasons, his timeline, or what comes next for us.  Thomas Boston, The Crook in the Lot, 3.  Jeremiah Burroughs, Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, 41.  Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 377.
 For other suggestions on how to preach Christ from Acc 6:10-7:14, see Sidney Greidanus, “How to Preach Christ from Ecclesiastes,” in SBJT 15.3 (2011): 56-61, especially p. 60.