The Preacher is quite pessimistic and the level of seeming despair is evident when he reasons after beholding the defenseless oppressed and those crushed by the strong and mighty:
“Then I looked again at all the acts of oppression which were being done under the sun. And behold I saw the tears of the oppressed and that they had no one to comfort them; and on the side of their oppressors was power, but they had no one to comfort them. 2 So I congratulated the dead who are already dead more than the living who are still living. 3 But better off than both of them is the one who has never existed, who has never seen the evil activity that is done under the sun.” (Vv.1-4)
The oppressed and their tears exacerbates the Preacher’s experience as he considers the lack of comfort the downtrodden receive, “…they had no one to comfort them…” and the power of those oppressing them. The weak ruled by the mighty, the defenseless overcome by the strong, and bitterness is the soup of the needy.
The Preacher saw acts of oppression which caused him to conclude that the “dead” (v.2a) are better off than the living. That’s pessimism on steroids, to congratulate the dead over against the oppressed, but the Preacher is not yet finished. Not only are the dead praised for not being in the muck of life, but those who have never come into existence are better off than the dead. How can one be better off than the oppressed and the dead if they aren’t or never have been? In his view, to behold the evil his eyes have witnessed and the damage inflicted on the soul is so severe, that seemingly what can’t be—a knowing and non-existent knower—is better than the alternative of existing and thus suffering horrible ills.
While there’s oppression and evil, there’s also liberty and goodness, but then again the gloom that looms over a life without God is acutely unbearable. I have not experienced the evils many have through the annals of time, but I have experienced despair and wrestled with dark thoughts of suicide because of suffering. For the follower of Jesus, under such circumstances, Paul reminds us that God is working on our behalf behind the scenes:
“28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” (Romans 8:28-30)
So, when despair seems to be swallowing you up believer, know that it is momentary and that the heavenly Father, has not abandoned you, but is rather working through the pain to make you more like Jesus.
To the non-believer or skeptic, my suggestion is for you to investigate the claims of Christ to see whether or not they make sense to you. For of all the authorities that command us how to live, only Christ Jesus claimed to be the uncreated creator who is self-existent and conquered the grave through the resurrection. To dismiss his claims, which came through eyewitness accounts as mere fantasy, is not only pedestrian but a brazen refusal to behold the immense evidence to support his claims.
LORD, when darkness comes remind us that you truly are our light, that a life without you truly is meaningless, ugly, cold, and gray. Teach us to look to you when suffering seems too unbearable and grant the grace required for us to finish the race set before us as we look to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.