Ecclesiastes is a difficult book. Solomon makes puzzling statements. Look at these verses from Eccl 3:19–21:
“For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth?”
It seems like Solomon teaches that there’s no life after death. What on earth!?
I don’t believe Solomon is teaching that there’s no life after death. Solomon believes that God will judge us after we die (Eccl 3:17; 12:14), and he believes that man’s spirit returns to God after death (12:7). So, if Solomon does believe in life after death, how should we make sense of Eccl 3:19–21?
When Solomon states that both man and animal “go to one place” after they die, he is stating what we know by experience, by the “under the sun” perspective (Eccl 3:16). All living things have the same destination—the grave (Ps 49:12). And, based upon what we see, based upon our “under the sun” perspective (Eccl 3:16), it is not clear that man and beast are different when they die. Left to our limited perspective, independent of God’s perspective, life after death is not certain.
Solomon is saying something like this: “Both animals and people die. They go to the same place. Based upon what we can see, it is not clear whether there is life after death. Maybe there is, maybe not. Based upon the ‘under the sun’ perspective, it is not clear. However, based upon the ‘in heaven’ perspective, it is clear. All souls will return to God, and God will judge all.”
I pray and hope this explanation helps you understand these odd verses.