|4 Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power—with no one to comfort them. 2 And I thought the dead, who have already died, more fortunate than the living, who are still alive; 3 but better than both is the one who has not yet been, and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.
Back in the early nineteen eighties there was a TV movie called The Day After, which portrayed how the world would look after a nuclear attack. It was graphic and grisly. I remember thinking, as I watched people trying to navigate the through the collapse of society that it would probably be better to die in the blast than to have to live through the aftermath.
The Day After was a hard movie to watch. Sometimes life can be hard to deal with. Qohelet looks at the world and sees what is there. Not all of it is good. In fact some of it is downright terrible. He sees oppression, and the tears of the oppressed. If he were alive today, he would point to Syrian refugees, and he might carry in his pocket a picture of the little boy who died on the beach. He would see kidnapped teen-aged girls in Nigeria. He would see countless and nameless people dying of hunger, homeless people sleeping on park benches, and indigenous people around the world whose land has been stolen from them.
These are hard things to see, but what do you after you have seen them? Qohelet says it would be better to have never been born. But that is not an option. Around 353,000 babies are born every day, and many are born into horrible circumstances. We might say, with Qohelet, that it would be better if many of those babies had not been born, but they were.
And the fact is, we cannot change the circumstances into which they were born. People are born into oppressive circumstances every day. Wishing they had not been does nothing to change that.
What can we do?
The fact that we cannot change the whole world does not mean that we are absolved from trying to do what we can, where we can.
Thoughts and Questions
- Jesus said, “You will always have the poor with you.” Do you think he meant that we should just accept that, or do you think he offered that as a challenge?
- It is hard not to see Qohelet observations as a very depressing state of affairs. And it is easy to see why he would wish that some people were never born, for their own good. How do you deal with some of the harder facts of life? How do you deal with things that you cannot change?
- When the Psalms talk about oppression, it is assumed that God will rescue the oppressed. In the Prophets there is usually an exhortation for the people to rescue the oppressed. Qohelet looks, neither to the God, nor the people to rescue the oppressed. Yet he is disturbed by the oppression he sees. Do you think he has any kind of solution for oppression?