4 Again I saw that many people are treated badly. I saw their tears, and I saw that there was no one to comfort them. I saw that cruel people had all the power, and I saw that there was no one to comfort the people they hurt. 2 I decided that it is better for those who have died than for those who are still alive. 3 And it is even better for those who die at birth, because they never saw the evil that is done in this world.[a]
4 Then I thought, “Why do people work so hard?” I saw people try to succeed and be better than other people. They do this because they are jealous. They don’t want other people to have more than they have. This is senseless. It is like trying to catch the wind.[b]
5 Some people say, “It is foolish to fold your hands and do nothing. If you don’t work, you will starve to death.” 6 Maybe that is true. But I say it is better to be satisfied with the few things you have than to always be struggling to get more.
7 Again I saw something else that didn’t make sense: 8 I saw a man who has no family, not a son or even a brother. But he continues to work very hard. He is never satisfied with what he has. And he works so hard that he never stops and asks himself, “Why am I working so hard? Why don’t I let myself enjoy my life?” This is also a very bad and senseless thing.
9 Two people are better than one. When two people work together, they get more work done.
10 If one person falls, the other person can reach out to help. But those who are alone when they fall have no one to help them.
11 If two people sleep together, they will be warm. But a person sleeping alone will not be warm.
12 An enemy might be able to defeat one person, but two people can stand back-to-back to defend each other. And three people are even stronger. They are like a rope that has three parts wrapped together—it is very hard to break.
13 A young leader who is poor but wise is better than a king who is old but foolish. That old king does not listen to warnings. 14 Maybe the young ruler was born a poor man in the kingdom. And maybe he came from prison to rule the country. 15 But I have watched people in this life,[c] and I know this: People will follow that young man. He will become the new king. 16 Many people will follow this young man. But later, those same people will not like him. This is also senseless. It is like trying to catch the wind.
5 Be very careful when you go to worship God. It is better to listen to God than to give sacrifices like fools. Fools often do bad things, and they don’t even know it. 2 Be careful when you make promises to God. Be careful about what you say to him. Don’t let your feelings cause you to speak too soon. God is in heaven, and you are on the earth. So you need to say only a few things to him. This saying is true:
3 Bad dreams come from too many worries,
and too many words come from the mouth of a fool.
4 If you make a promise to God, keep your promise. Don’t be slow to do what you promised. God is not happy with fools. Give God what you promised to give him. 5 It is better to promise nothing than to promise something and not be able to do it. 6 So don’t let your words cause you to sin. Don’t say to the priest,[d] “I didn’t mean what I said.” If you do this, God might become angry with your words and destroy everything you have worked for. 7 You should not let your useless dreams and bragging bring you trouble. You should respect God.
8 In some country you will see poor people who are forced to work very hard. You will see that this is not fair to them. It is against their rights. But don’t be surprised! The ruler who forces them to work has another ruler who forces him. And there is still another ruler who forces both of these rulers. 9 Even the king is a slave—his country owns him.[e]
10 Those who love money will never be satisfied with the money they have. Those who love wealth will not be satisfied when they get more and more. This is also senseless.
11 The more wealth people have, the more “friends” they have to help spend it. So the rich really gain nothing. They can only look at their wealth.
12 Those who work hard all day come home and sleep in peace. It is not important if they have little or much to eat. But the rich worry about their wealth and are not able to sleep.
13 There is a very sad thing that I have seen happen in this life.[f] People save their money for the future.[g] 14 Then something bad happens and they lose everything. So they have nothing to give to their children.
15 People come into the world with nothing. And when they die, they leave with nothing. They might work hard to get things, but they cannot take anything with them when they die. 16 It is very sad that people leave the world just as they came. So what does a person gain from “trying to catch the wind”? 17 They only get days that are filled with sadness and sorrow. In the end, they are troubled, sick, and angry.
18 I have seen what is best for people to do on earth: They should eat, drink, and enjoy the work they have during their short time here. God has given them these few days, and that is all they have.
19 If God gives some people wealth, property, and the power to enjoy those things, they should enjoy them. They should accept the things they have and enjoy their work—that is a gift from God. 20 People don’t have many years to live, so they must remember these things all their life. God will keep them busy with the work they love to do.[h]
6 I have seen another thing in this life that is not fair and is very hard to understand. 2 God gives some people great wealth, riches, and honor. They have everything they need and everything they could ever want. But then God does not let them enjoy those things. Some stranger comes and takes everything. This is a very bad and senseless thing.
3 A man might live a long time and have 100 children. But if he is not satisfied with those good things, and if no one remembers him after his death, I say that a baby who dies at birth is better off than that man. 4 It is senseless when a baby is born dead. The baby is quickly buried in a dark grave, without even a name. 5 The baby never saw the sun and never knew anything. But the baby finds more rest than the man who never enjoyed what God gave him. 6 He might live 2000 years. But if he does not enjoy life, then the baby who was born dead has found the easiest way to the same end.[i]
7 People work and work to feed themselves, but they are never satisfied. 8 In the same way a wise person is no better than a fool is. It is better to be a poor person who knows how to accept life as it is. 9 It is better to be happy with what you have than to always want more and more. Always wanting more and more is useless. It is like trying to catch the wind.[j]
10-11 You are only what you were created to be—a human, and it is useless to argue about it. People cannot argue with God about this because he is more powerful than they are, and a long argument will not change that fact.
12 Who knows what is best for people during their short life on earth? Their life passes like a shadow. No one can tell them what will happen later.
12 There is more that I have to say about myself. It won’t help, but I will talk now about visions and revelations from the Lord. 2 I know a man[a] in Christ who was taken up to the third heaven. This happened 14 years ago. I don’t know if the man was in his body or out of his body, but God knows. 3-4 And I know that this man was taken up to paradise. I don’t know if he was in his body or away from his body, but he heard things that he is not able to explain. He heard things that no one is allowed to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself. I will boast only about my weaknesses.
6 But if I wanted to say more about myself, I would not be a fool, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t say any more, because I don’t want people to think more of me than what they see me do or hear me say.
7 But I must not be too proud of the wonderful things that were shown to me. So a painful problem[b] was given to me—an angel from Satan, sent to make me suffer, so that I would not think that I am better than anyone else. 8 I begged the Lord three times to take this problem away from me. 9 But the Lord said, “My grace is all you need. Only when you are weak can everything be done completely by my power.” So I will gladly boast about my weaknesses. Then Christ’s power can stay in me. 10 Yes, I am glad to have weaknesses if they are for Christ. I am glad to be insulted and have hard times. I am glad when I am persecuted and have problems, because it is when I am weak that I am really strong.
11 I have been talking like a fool, but you made me do it. You people are the ones who should say good things about me. I am worth nothing, but those “super apostles” are not worth any more than I am! 12 When I was with you, I patiently did the things that prove I am an apostle—signs, wonders, and miracles. 13 So you received everything that the other churches have received. Only one thing was different: I was not a burden to you. Forgive me for this!
14 I am now ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you. I don’t want any of the things you own. I only want you. Children should not have to save things to give to their parents. Parents should save to give to their children. 15 So I am happy to give everything I have for you. I will even give myself for you. If I love you more, will you love me less?
16 It is clear that I was not a burden to you, but you think that I was tricky and used lies to catch you. 17 Did I cheat you by using any of the men I sent to you? You know I didn’t. 18 I asked Titus to go to you, and I sent our brother with him. Titus did not cheat you, did he? No, you know that his actions and his attitude were the same as ours.
19 Do you think that we have been defending ourselves to you all this time? No, we say these things in Christ and before God. You are our dear friends, and everything we do is to make you stronger. 20 I do this because I am afraid that when I come, you will not be what I want you to be. And I am afraid that I will not be what you want me to be. I am afraid that I will find arguing, jealousy, anger, selfish fighting, evil talk, gossip, pride, and confusion there. 21 I am afraid that when I come to you again, my God will make me humble before you. I may have to cry over the loss of some who sinned before. Many of them have still not changed their hearts to be sorry for their evil lives, their sexual sins, and the shameful things they have done.