Whilst watching a documentary on uncontacted tribes of the Amazon, one of the tribesmen made a comment on what they think happens to a person after death. Their view of the afterlife was that a member of their tribe upon death simply flies upwards and beyond the sky where they live on. This view of the post-mortal state of humans needed space for the white man that already flies in the sky, which they duly supplied by proposing that white men do not make it beyond the sky. A fellow Christian I was watching this with, chimed in with the verse in Ecclesiastes which has been read as meaning that most know they will live forever because God has placed this in human hearts. This view of what Ecclesiastes 3:14 means runs into all kinds of problems.One of the issues is the translation of difficult word usually rendered as ‘Eternity’ in most translations. Although the NIV, NLT, ESV, NASB translations opt for, ‘eternity’ others offer alternatives such as, ‘World’, ‘Ignorance’ or ‘Knowledge’.
KJV: “He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end”
NET: “God has made everything fit beautifully in its appropriate time, but he has also placed ignorance in the human heart so that people cannot discover what God has ordained, from the beginning to the end of their lives”
Young’s Literal Translation: “The whole He hath made beautiful in its season; also, that knowledge He hath put in their heart without which man findeth not out the work that God hath done from the beginning even unto the end”
The second issue is the context in which the word itself is used, especially what comes after (the word translated as) ‘eternity’…”yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end“. This might also be the reason for such a wide variety of translations for the same word also used elsewhere in 3:14:
“I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him” – ESV
The context here being more related to time, ‘forever’ is a consistent and accurate translation with all bar one – the ISV.
The third reason why Ecclesiastes 3:14 might possibly not be about life hereafter is because of the overall context of the book. Qoholeth (the author) expresses an amount of scepticism about the existence of life hereafter. In 9:5 he says, “the dead know nothing” and in 9:10, “there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol“. Also, bearing in mind the ‘under the sun’ perspective of the writer, it is certain that what eternity in Ecclesiastes means cannot be life hereafter but something entirely this-worldly though this might sound almost heretical to most modern Christians obsessed with a vision of a floaty, gold-plated heaven.