Wisdom is in the House of Mourning

In the summer of 2010 I wrote a short devotional for Corinth Reformed’s newsletter. It was on Ecclesiastes 7:4. In today’s world of unashamed self-centered pleasure seeking, we need to be reminded that deep and lasting happiness have never been found there.  This kind of pleasure seeking is, according to the Bible, not only unwise, but deadly.

Life’s greatest happiness is most often found not in the arena of personal triumph, success, or self-gratification, but in the ash heap with your arms wrapped around a weeping friend.

It’s somewhat of a mystery, but it is true.  And many of you who have done so, know the feeling.  At least, those who have put their trust in Jesus Christ do.  There is a joy in sorrow and a comfort in pain (see 2 Cor. 1:5; 6:3-10; Col. 1:24; Heb. 12:1-3), that the believer has which words fail to describe.  Somehow God can take pain and suffering and use it to minister joy to our hearts through the knowledge that our affliction is not in vain and that in Heaven we have a greater treasure.

I’ve reposted the devotion below.

Ecclesiastes 7:4 NIV

“The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.”

It is not hard to see the connection between foolishness and pleasure. But very few people would connect wisdom with mourning. To me, a phrase like “house of study” seems more logical. But mourning? What does “the house of mourning” have to do with being wise?

Ecclesiastes 7 is a chapter filled with pithy statements contrasting wisdom and folly. The key to understanding the connection between wisdom and mourning therefore is to look at what it’s being contrasted with. In this case, fools and pleasure are set alongside of wisdom and mourning.

The contrast, on the surface, is striking and obvious, but the meaning of the contrast is somewhat subtle. The writer’s point is not that pleasure is something that only fools desire, because its not (Ps. 16:11; 37:4; 63:5; 90:14; Is. 55:1-2). Instead, the writer banks the argument on what he knows every reader will intuitively grasp about the difference between going into a place full of “pleasure” and a place full of “mourning”. The one man goes to a house of pleasure for himself and the other goes to a house of mourning for others.

The wise person has a heart that is concerned about others pain and finds more joy in entering into their predicament. They find their joy in the joy of others, and this often means entering into their problems and helping them carry their pain. They find joy the same way Christ does, who “for the joy set before him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2). Christ, the Wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24), entered into our world of mourning and misery, because his joy was found in bringing us joy—bearing our pain was a necessary part of securing the pleasure he desperately longed for us to have in him.

The foolish man, according to God, is foolish, ultimately, not because he pursued pleasure, but because he pursued it by way of himself and not through the good of others.

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