Defending the Glory of God
6. Ecclesiastes 9:5-6. Doesn’t this passage deny that those who have died can know about us and love us ? And so isn’t the idea of them praying for us ruled out ?
Although this appears to refute the idea that those who have passed on can know anything about those still on earth a closer examination of the context of this Book makes such an assertion impossible. [ A verse taken out of context is just a poor pretext to support a preconceived and *assumed* idea.]
While a person might be able to make a case that the teachings here in Ecclesiastes apply even in a literal way to those under the Old Covenant, the New Testament clearly shows that this does not apply to the Christian under the New Covenant. The passage “There is no further recompense for them” surely cannot apply to the Christian who dies in Christ and who as a consequence gains the beatific vision and eternal life in heaven.
Also the passage
1 John 4:7-8
1 Corinthians 13:8-13
Therefore, since love does not pass away for those who die in Christ it is impossible for the Christian to assert that Ecclesiastes applies in a literal sense to those who are under the New Covenant in Jesus Christ.
While these above arguments should suffice we can find more passages from the Book of Ecclesiastes which do not apply in a literal way to the New Covenant Christian.
1 Thessalonians 5:18
However, we can see some of the things that God has done. And some of them are recorded in Sacred Scripture, the Bible.
Ecclesiastes: What this Book is really teaching
[I offer this as my own, hopefully, humble opinion for the Church to judge.]
There are many different types of literature in the Bible. There are Books that are historical, and others are prophetic, some are poetry, possibly some are parable, and yet others are wisdom literature. It is necessary to determine what kind of literature a particular book is in order to interpret it correctly.
When the whole Book of Ecclesiastes is taken in context it appears that it is a pastoral letter written to a person who is undergoing a deep personal crisis and time of great suffering. [The virtue of humility has taught me to hold my own personal opinion in no high regard, but until the Church established by Christ offers me an authoritative teaching to the contrary I will tend to hold to this opinion of mine as probable.] The Book of Ecclesiastes seems to be addressed to a person who is probably very depressed. [See Ecclesiastes 2:17 “Therefore I loathed life” also 1:2, 18.] It is not intended to be read as theological treatise of what we hold to be true by faith concerning the after-life. If fact, several verses tend to deny knowledge of what happens in the after life. Possibly this book was written before God had revealed much about that.
Our relationship with God goes much deeper than just being filled with intellectual doctrines. Dealing with the deep personal struggles that come with life requires more than just knowledge about the after life. Qoheleth, the author of Ecclesiastes, offers gentle pastoral guidance to an individual who is experiencing some tragic loss. He offers honest recognition of the deep pains that sometimes come in life. He does not deny the suffering individual’s right to suffer with some well meaning but ill advised platitude. [Even Jesus wept when Lazarus died. Cf. John 11:35.]
When someone is suffering greatly he does not need to have another to come along and logically or theologically explain away his suffering. The suffering person – in this case the reader of Ecclesiastes – needs the second person – Qoheleth – to come and to suffer with him. Romans 12:15 states “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”
All through the Book Qoheleth acknowledges
various deep sorrows and injustices in life. Gently he encourages
the reader to preserver in faith and he offers an occasional if not
sparse word about enjoying the natural joys that do come in life.
[See 3:12, 5:17, 7:3, 7:18, 8:12, 11:9.] He is careful not
to test or challenge the faith of the suffering person. While
suffering with the him, Qoheleth points gently toward God and
Therefore, the statements in Ecclesiastes about man’s life ending at his death are an acknowledgement of the pain concerning what appears to be true on the natural level. It is not intended to be understood as a theological declaration as to what happens on the supernatural level at the end of life. For example, see Ecclesiastes 3:21, 10:14, and 11:5 above.
Another example of a statement of this type can be found in
Jesus was praying Psalm 22, out loud, from the cross when He made the statement above. He was calling to His followers’ mind’s the triumphal meaning that is revealed at the end of that Psalm. Jesus knew that His listeners would have been reminded of the rest of that prayer when He prayed the opening verse just as the opening stanza of a song brings the meaning of the whole song to the mind of the hearer.
Psalm 22: 2, 22-25
Jesus was giving us a message of hope when we follow him to the cross. Luke 9:23-24.
Even though believers in God may feel abandoned when they suffer, in reality God the Father is closer than ever when we are doing His will.
So, again we see an example of a statement that is not intended to be interpreted as a declaration of a supernatural fact. When seen within the whole context this is clear.
In conclusion, Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 should not be taken out of context. And it is impossible for the Christian to assert that this passage applies in a literal sense to those under the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. And so this passage does not in any way declare that the Saints in heaven cannot pray with us to Jesus Christ.