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Answering The Atheist
June 10, 2007 / Volume 7, Issue 23

THE ATHEIST'S COMPLAINT:
Is it good to be happy? Some verses say yes (Proverbs 17:22; Ecclesiastes 8:15), but others say no (Ecclesiastes 7:3-4; Luke 6:25). Is there a contradiction?

RESPONSE:
Let us begin with Luke 6:25. The sermon Jesus was preaching on this occasion is parallel to that which appears in Matthew 5-7. In Matthew 5:4, Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." In this and the verses surrounding it, Jesus is previewing His kingdom (see February 19, 2006 article). The word "blessed" (gr. makarios) means happy or fortunate. Not all mourning will bring happiness or comfort, but if we mourn for sin (ie. have sorrow for sin), we shall be blessed and comforted, because God will forgive our sins. In Luke's parallel, Jesus rebukes those who laugh now; who engage in sin without remorse, for they will mourn afterward (in judgment).

The book of Ecclesiastes chronicles Solomon's search for the purpose of life. In this quest, we see on more than one occasion where the writer in one place comments favourably on something, and then elsewhere negatively. This is contemplation, not contradiction. Such exists all through the book.

Verse 1-2 contextualizes the thoughts of verse 3-4 in Ecclesiastes 7. The writer is discussing eternal things, "...the day of death....", which is "...the end of all men..." In consideration of this, he states, "...sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better." When considering eternal things, we ought to approach such with sobriety. The "...sorrow is better than laughter...", is much akin to Jesus' statement in Luke. Again, verse 4, in consideration of eternal things, exposes the difference between the wise and the fool. One soberly makes preparation for eternity, while the other stupidly frolics through life. They do not take to heart the end of all men (v 1-2).

Though Solomon warned against laughter and frolicking in the former text, as we come to Ecclesiastes 8:15, we find him commending enjoyment. What is the difference? Here, he is not talking about the fool engaging in the pleasures of life, with no view toward eternity. In this text, he speak of those who "Keep the king's commandment for the sake of your oath to God" (v 2), and "who fear God" (v 12). For the righteous, who have prepared themselves for eternity, Solomon says, "I commend enjoyment" (v 15). We do not need to go through life depriving ourselves of anything which is good. Having set our spiritual matters in order, and maintaining them, it is God's pleasure that we enjoy life; but understand that these things are secondary our commitment to God is the primary concern and our primary objective (see 12:13-14).

Finally, in Proverbs 17:22, we read, "A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones." He is not directing us to wreckless and foolish pursuits, as the fool will engage such vices are in fact not good for the heart or body, and will bring with them premature death. However, a good happy disposition is key to good health. Those who are perpetually struggling with issues of depression and emotional anguish will see very quickly the effects of such in their health.

There is no contradiction.

This article is a response to Skeptic's Annotated Bible