“A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth. It is better to go to a house of mourning than to a house of feasting for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:1-2)
While the new TV series, “Making Australia Happy,” is being promoted strongly on ABC TV – incidentally, the average happiness rating in New South Wales is 64 (6% under the national benchmark) – Solomon says we will be better off by going to the house of mourning than to the ABC to discover how to experience the good life. Instead of focusing on the present level of our pleasurable experiences, Solomon says that we need to focus on our character – “a good name is better than fine perfume.” How our character will be remembered is of greater significance than the type of aftershave or perfume that has become our social signature.
In effect, Solomon says that it’s more important for a woman to be known for her gentleness and kindness than the fact that she wears Chanel No. 5. What God and others think of our characters is ultimately what matters. I have just read several books on the life of the British reformer and philanthropist, William Wilberforce. This one man, whose life was so deeply rooted in a personal knowledge of Christ and the Bible, has left an impact on the world for good that probably far exceeds anyone else in the last two centuries. You ask, “How?” Through his character and deeds. He made it his chief ambition to know Christ, and through trusting in God’s grace, set about to suppress the British slave trade and reform the moral tone of Britain.
It took him over forty years to achieve this, but through great endurance he did it. He led a movement to abolish the slave trade and also found time to set up such familiar institutions as the National Gallery, the RSPCA, Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, Christian schools, medical associations and the like – around seventy in all. In none of the books that I read was anyone interested in his brand of aftershave or whether he wore Hugo Boss suits. They were all interested in his character.
This explains why Solomon tells us a wise man regards his death as a more significant focal point than the day of his birth or his day-to-day feelings. The simple fact is that we will all die. Whether we are at peace or at war, the mortality rate is 100%. Death is the ultimate destination of us all and since this is so, we need to keep death in view if we are to live well.
I remember meeting Dr Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Seminary, in 2002. He told me that when he first took on the leadership of the Seminary, he took the faculty to a cemetery in Princeton, New Jersey. It was the burial place of the great theologian, Jonathan Edwards. As everyone stood around the grave, Mohler said, “Gentlemen, one day soon we will all succumb to death. Will the words that are written here about Edwards be written of you?” Mohler’s question to his staff reminds us that a good name is better than anything else.