“It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil…” (Ecclesiastes 9:2).
These are the words, like most of the statements in Ecclesiastes, of a man who is summarizing a lifetime of deep disappointments and sad observations. It is also a description of “life under the sun.”, Every believer at some point struggles with this perception of reality.
But is it entirely accurate? Is this the full picture? Is life really “the same for all,” whether you are righteous or wicked? In other words, do the same things happen to everyone?
Why This Principle Is In One Sense True
On the one hand, the same things do happen to everyone. A Christian and a non-Christian may both experience a job promotion or a job loss. Both believers and unbelievers may lose a spouse, or take a beach vacation, or have their house burn down, or graduate from college, or need heart surgery, or attend a concert, or excel at sports.
Going to church, or praying and reading your Bible, does not protect you from cancer or improve your math skills.
You will find righteous people in the halls of academia and politics, laboring next door to wicked people. You are not statistically more or less likely to be shot on the battlefield if you are a Christian.
And, of course, ultimately death comes to us all. A conscientious, loving, godly person will die and be buried in the same graveyard as a depraved, selfish reprobate.
The same things happen to everyone!
If you have never considered this reality, then pause for a moment and let it sink in. It is crucial to understanding life and have an accurate view of your role in this world. Contrary to some televangelists’ empty promises, serving God or giving to a church does not guarantee a financially affluent or carefree life. If you are serving God with this false expectation—even in the back of your mind—then you will be regularly disappointed, constantly frustrated, and easily shaken.
God does not promise physical prosperity or painlessness to anyone living in this world, including those who obey him or sacrifice for him. So when you sign up to be a Christian, you are not signing out of this world, its everyday experiences, problems, and pains.
One day you, Christian, will lose a loved one. You will have to give up on some deep and good desire. You will have to wrestle with the effects of aging. And one day, whether you are a Christian or not, you will face the last day of your life on this earth.
“It is the same for all.” The same things happen to everyone.
How God’s Word Helps Us Look Deeper
On the one hand, being a believer does not save you from grief or promise you health. On the other hand, there is an infinite difference in the purpose behind the same event, for the Christian and the non-Christian.
For the Christian, everything he or she faces in life is passing first through the abundantly benevolent hand of the perfectly wise God. Everything—literally, everything—is working together for good to those who love God (Romans 8:28).
Think of what this promise means in daily life! On the same day God can send rain to the Cincinnati area in order to answer the prayers and strengthen the faith of a godly farmer, while the very same rain may be sent in order to teach another Christian, who is a wedding event planner, to trust in God’s superior wisdom even when things go contrary to our desires.
Meanwhile, a godly mother learns to battle the temptation to worry, after her precious believing child runs out to play in the rain, rejoicing in the variety and splendor of God’s Creation.
With one event, experienced by over 2 million people all over the Cincinnati metro area, God is working in different ways for the good of every single person in the city who trusts in Jesus!
Yet the same events in the life of a nonbeliever are working to undo your efforts toward self-salvation.
“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil”(1 Peter 3:12).
“O Lord … all who forsake you shall be put to shame … for they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living water” (Jeremiah 17:13).
Because God is, as C.S. Lewis put it, “the fountain of all facthood,” and because God is, as King David put it, “the fountain of life,” it is not possible to walk away from God and have a real life. Living water comes from Him. If we forsake God, we are by that very action demolishing ourselves. The punishment does not just fit the crime; the punishment is the crime. Again, as Lewis so well expresses, “God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”
For this reason, both a Christian and a nonbeliever can attend the same funeral of a loved one. The Christian may be reminded that life is short and ought to be used for God’s glory, and is brought to rejoice in the fact that those who believe in Jesus will never truly die. Simultaneously, the non-Christian may be further cemented in unbelief because he or she thinks that “if there really was a good God surely there would not be any death in the world.”
How We Should Respond to These Biblical Realities
As Christians, we should be encouraged when we are tempted to question God’s transcendently wise working in our lives or in the world around us. We should be looking for the promised grace, guidance, love, and wisdom that God says will be ours when we look to him in the midst of painful and challenging events of this life.
This is why the writer of Ecclesiastes brings his observations to a close with this lesson: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). That applies to the non-Christian as well.
The same things happen to everyone, but it makes all the difference in the world whether you are on God’s side or not. Those who love God and trust in his salvation through Christ will find that the entire cosmos is being orchestrated for their good. And because their heart yearns to see God’s glory manifested in the world, their heart’s longing will be fulfilled.