I was reading through Ecclesiastes and stumbled on some verses that are full of wisdom that is only accessible to those with an eternal perspective. To those who don’t, they probably would just sound messed up.
1 A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.
2 ¶It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.
3 Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.
4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
5 It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools. (Ecclesiastes 7:1-5)
How is a good name better than precious ointment? The precious ointment is nice-smelling and gave people pleasure as they came within the personal space of the wearer. But a good name (or good reputation), assuming it is built upon good works and a righteous life, is spiritually inspiring to others and has the potential to provoke others to imitation. The world needs good influences and great examples.
How is the day of death better than the day of one’s birth? For those of us who are living the gospel and repenting carefully and who know this life is a probationary period, the day of our death is the end of the test of mortality. If we can make it to that day and stay faithful, how happy we will be! Both birth and death are advancements along the continuum of eternal progression, but death is further along.
Why is it better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting? The house of mourning was an expression for a house where there had been a death in the family. The wise realize that eventually everyone will die, and they use this occasion to ponder their own progress in life and whether they are spiritually prepared for their own death. Then they make changes as needed. But no such soul-searching happens at a party.
In what way is sorrow better than laughter? How is the heart made better by sadness of countenance? Sorrow is usually in response to difficult circumstances—death, disappointment, conflict, rejection, tribulation, frustration, etc. Sorrow is uncomfortable, and we don’t like to be sad, so for a righteous person, sorrow can lead to soul-searching and pondering what one needs to change in life. So a sad face on a good person is a sign that they are doing or about to do some spiritual change that will make their heart better, i.e. improve their character.
Why would the heart of the wise be in the house of mourning? Again, they are thinking about the end of their life and what they need to do to prepare to meet God. It might also be said they have the house of mourning in them if they try to keep a broken heart and a contrite spirit.
Why is it better to hear the rebuke of the wise than the song of fools? The wise are those who are righteous. Listening to their rebuke helps us learn where we need to repent, so even though it might be uncomfortable, humbling ourselves will help us become better. The song of fools, however, has no such spiritual benefit.