Sorrow and Joy

Joy and Sorrow

(cc) George Miller – Flickr

[PART 11 OF 12]

As Solomon chronicles his quest for meaning and purpose in his life, he makes an interesting observation regarding sorrow and joy.

“It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure. It is better to heed a wise man’s rebuke than to listen to the song of fools. Like the crackling of thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of fools. This too is meaningless.”
(Ecclesiastes 7:2-6)

Huh? Sorrow is better than laughter? That doesn’t make sense! A sad face is good for the heart? Doesn’t that contradict Proverbs 17:22?

“A cheerful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
(Proverbs 17:22, which, by the way, was also written by Solomon)

So, what are you saying, Solomon? If a cheerful heart is good medicine, then how can sorrow be better than laughter? How can a sad face be good for the heart? What’s up with this whole “sorrow is better than joy” idea?

There are two important things that we need to consider in order for these verses to make any sense.

oneFirst, let’s go back to Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. This is the “time for everything” passage, where Solomon extols the virtue of a balanced life. In verse 4, he says there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh”.

There are moments in life when sorrow and sadness are a more appropriate response to the situation than laughter and merriment. For example, in Romans 12:15, the apostle Paul says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” When other people are in pain, the appropriate response from us as Christians is to share in their pain, to cry with them. If we take other people’s sorrow lightly or are not sensitive to other people’s pain, God is not pleased.

It was God who created us as emotional beings. Emotions are a good thing. When something makes me sad, my heart feels heavy, and I cry. When something makes me happy, my heart feels light, and I smile and laugh.

When my daughter Ashley died at age 14, my heart was broken in pieces. My spirit was crushed. My soul felt heavy and burdened. Many, many tears were shed, because sadness and mourning and grief were appropriate responses to such a monumental loss. Though our lives were never completely robbed of joy, joy stepped to the side for the moment, and bitter sorrow came to the forefront. Sorrow was more appropriate than joy in those dark hours, even though joy was never far away (I hope that makes sense).

The key is balance. Sorrow and joy are both very important parts of life. Both must exist at various times in order for life to be balanced and whole. I think part of what Solomon is trying to express here, is that in times of sorrow, mourning is a better response than merriment.

twoSecond, let’s look at the meanings of the actual words Solomon used when talking about sorrow and laughter. Sorrow refers to vexation or indignation, and carries the idea of repentance. Laughter, on the other hand, as it is used here, refers to derision, defiant laughter, and mocking.

When sin is present in a person’s life, the only appropriate response is sorrow (vexation, indignation, repentance). If our response to sin is to defiantly laugh it off or mock God, we have certainly chosen an inappropriate response. In response to sin, sorrow is better than laughter.

That certainly does not negate the overall importance of joy in the lives of God’s children. We are commanded to rejoice (Philippians 4:4), and Solomon’s words in Proverbs 17:22 still hold true: “A cheerful heart is good medicine”. But when sin is present, or when other people are grieving, or when our own lives are filled with heartache and pain, sorrow is a better response than laughter in those moments.
Paul O'Rear Signature

This is Part 11 in a 12-part series entitled “The Meaning of Life”.
Part 1: “A Little Birdie Told Me
Part 2: “Oreo Cookies and the Meaning of Life
Part 3: “Introducing King Solomon
Part 4: “King Solomon and the Oreos
Part 5: “Something Worth Waking Up For
Part 6: “Cha-Ching!
Part 7: “Wisdom, Hard Work, Achievement
Part 8: “Life is Good
Part 9: “Turn! Turn! Turn!
Part 10: “Injustice
Part 11: “Sorrow and Joy”
Part 12: “The Conclusion

NEXT: “The Conclusion

Photo Credit:

  1. Joy and Sorrow, by George Miller (Flickr), Creative Commons License

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