The House of Mourning is a Good Place to Live
Meditation on Ecclesiastes 7:1-4
and Psalm 90:12
“A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth. It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” – Ecclesiastes 7:1-4
“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” – Psalm 90:12
Our church family has had to live in the “house of mourning” over the last few weeks, and the Bible actually says that this is a good thing. It is tempting to suppress the grief of losing someone we love, tempting to put on a tough face and pretend that we are okay. But the Bible teaches us that it is good to grieve, good to live in the “house of mourning.” Even Jesus wept when he found out that his friend Lazarus had died (John 11:35).
There are many reasons why it is good to grieve. We should grieve because the world is not as it should be. To not grieve over the way things are would be to live out of touch with reality. Death is unnatural. So grieving is the natural, and even necessary, response to death. To not grieve is to not understand the world we live in.
But the Bible says that there is another reason why we should grieve. Ecclesiastes 7 says that “the day of death (is better) than the day of birth” (v. 1), that it is “better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting” (v. 2), and that “sorrow is better than laughter” (v. 3). Why is this true?
The answer lies in our text. Verse 2, “This (the day of death) is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” And verse 4, “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” Here is what Solomon is saying: “Death is the destiny of everyone who lives. Therefore, those who are alive should consider the reality of their own deaths in order to gain a heart of wisdom.”
One of God’s good purposes in our grief is to teach us wisdom. Grieving the loss of a loved one, while deeply painful, is one of God’s most effective tools in teaching us spiritual wisdom. Even more effective than the joy of a newborn child. Funerals are better than feasts because it is important for us to remember that we will all die. The “house of mourning” is a good place for us to live because it is where we are confronted with the realities of our finite existence. And those with a teachable heart will learn much wisdom by living there.
Moses makes this even clearer for us in Psalm 90:12, “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Moses is asking God to help him to remember that his days are numbered so that he might be given a wise heart. Do you ever pray this way? Our death is imminent. The mortality rate is still 100%. The wise will lay this to heart.
Moses prays this way because he knows that, left to ourselves, we will not think this way. We are naturally disinclined to consider our deaths. John Calvin describes this reality like this: “It is surely a monstrous thing that men can…know how many feet the moon is distant from the center of the earth, what space there is between the different planets…that they can measure all the dimensions both of heaven and earth; while yet they cannot number threescore and ten years in their own case. It is therefore evident that Moses had good reason to beseech God for ability to perform what requires a wisdom which is very rare among mankind.” In other words, we love to measure everything in the universe except the span of our lives. Which is why we must pray for God to give us a wisdom that will not come naturally to us, a wisdom to number our days.
The reason it is wise for us to think about the shortness of our lives and the certainty of our deaths is because we are all prone to spend our days pursuing things that have no eternal value. We live our lives with no thought to the Day when we will stand before our Maker and give an account for everything we have done (2 Cor. 5:10).
This is why we waste so many days in idleness and folly. It has been said that our culture is entertaining itself to death. We spend countless hours in front of the television watching sitcoms and reality shows with no eternal value. We are so attached to our phones that we disregard people made in the image of God who are right in front of us. We are far more interested in our sports teams than we are in our neighbors. We go to work every day only looking forward to the weekend.
Why do we live this way? One reason is because we do not have hearts of wisdom that understand the shortness of our days. Instead, we have foolish hearts that love the house of pleasure (Ecc. 7:4). Again, John Calvin is instructive here: “What can be a greater proof of madness than to ramble about without proposing to one’s self any end?” In other words, it is crazy to live our lives without ever thinking about the end of our lives.
The Bible teaches us, however, that living with our end in mind creates a life of wisdom and purpose and joy. And the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only thing powerful enough to give us hearts that want to live like this. The gospel is why we can be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). The gospel is how we can know that our death is actually the beginning of everlasting and ever-increasing joy.
So may we live in the “house of mourning.” But may we live there with an unshakable joy in our Master who is currently preparing a “house of feasting” and a “house of pleasure” for all who trust him (John 14:1-3).
With You in the “House of Mourning,”