A Question I Was Asked:

Why Is Ecclesiastes 9 Sceptical About Life After Death?

I don't understand why Ecclesiastes 9:5 states, "For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten." As Christians don't we believe that the dead do, in fact, have a form of consciousness?

Can you help with this?

Jesus is not like some politician of this world. He is unequivocal: He will lay down His life for His sheep, not "might," not, "as long as they manage to be good enough," not, "oh well, yes, probably, as long as the economy is strong at the time," not, "Well, we shall have to see, these things are frightfully difficult to arrange, you know." .

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay, first of all one must get the whole context. Let's do that:

So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God's hands, but no one knows whether love or hate awaits them. All share a common destiny - the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not. As it is with the good, so with the sinful; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them. This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead. Anyone who is among the living has hope - even a live dog is better off than a dead lion! For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten. Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun. Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun - all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom. (Ecclesiastes 9: 1-11).

The main thing to remember about Ecclesiasties is that it is written in a philosophical vein - not a theological one! The writer here is saying that - in a sense - life is much the same for the good and the evil: both have the opportunity to enjoy life and to make the best of their talents, resources and skills. Everyone - good or evil - can profit by working hard, having a good wife (or husband), enjoying one's work and the fruits of that work. Yet, in a sense, it is all meaningless if it is just this life, so the encouragement here is to look beyond this life. All die, all go to the grave and there is no knowledge, wisdom nor ability to do fruitful work once in the grave.

When the text says, 'the dead know nothing,' it is not making a theological statement, it is saying that once dead, the opportunities of this life will have gone. Life is a wonderful gift: how are we using this wonderful gift? But this does not necessarily mean that the dead have no knowledge at all, this only compares the opportunities of life with the dormancy of death. Life is the time of opportunity.

However, Luke 16:19-31 offers a picture of human capabilities in the afterlife. Lazarus is in paradise in eternal joy, whilst the rich man is in torment in hades (the grave), but both do have some consciousness. The rich man apparently has feelings, can talk, and has the ability to remember, think, and reason. Several other Bible texts present a picture of those who are humanly-deceased being very aware whilst in Heaven. The Book of Revelation, for example, depicts the saved in heaven awaiting the resurrection and the restoration of all things (Revelation 6:9-11). If we are Christians we don't have to worry about the afterlife. Did not Jesus say,

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17).

Regarding Ecclesiastes, the key phrase, often repeated throughout this book, "is under the sun," Solomon is commenting upon an earth-bound life without God. His conclusion is that everything from that perspective is "vanity" or emptiness (Ecclesiastes 1:2). When a person dies 'under the sun,' the earthly perspective, without God, is that it's all over. He is no longer under the sun, so there is no more knowledge to give or to receive, maybe just a gravestone to mark his or her remains. Such people have "no further reward" in this life; they no longer have the ability to enjoy life like those who are living. Eventually, "even their name is forgotten." (Ecclesiastes 9:5). This writing is philosophical and from a human perspective. The more detailed theology on life would come later under the New Covenant. Solomon might have understood bits of that in his time, but only vaguely, as through a net curtain.

We can now say with confidence that we have a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who offers us Eternal Life in His Kingdom.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me - just as the Father knows me and I know the Father - and I lay down my life for the sheep." (John 10:10-15).

Jesus is not like some politician of this world. He is unequivocal: He will lay down His life for His sheep, not "might," not "as long as they manage to be good enough," not, "oh well, yes, probably as long as the economy is strong at the time."

Robin A. Brace. November 21st, 2015.