This weekly topic is an effort to recap the Wednesday night Bible study I teach at Sola5, my youth group. I hope it serves to help us all in contemplating the ceaseless riches of God’s grace as revealed through the Scriptures.
This week, we finished up chapter 1 in our study of Ecclesiastes. Solomon continues to talk about the vanity and meaninglessness of life, but he takes it here in an unexpected direction. In verses 12-18, he shifts the discussion to look at the vanity of wisdom. That’s strange, isn’t it? After all, aren’t we supposed to pursue wisdom (Proverbs 8)? Isn’t wisdom a characteristic of God (Daniel 2:20-23)? Why, then, would Solomon call his life’s pursuit of wisdom meaningless? What does he want us to understand?
The first thing he wants us to understand is what his wisdom allowed him to discover. He says that he applied himself to trying to understand life, to understand the world around him. He sought wisdom and knowledge at every turn. What did he find? He found that the word is hopelessly broken. This world is crooked and lacking, he says. His pursuit of wisdom and understanding brought him face to face with so much grief, suffering, and sin that he called it an “unhappy business.” We all can attest to the reality of this feeling. The more you know about our world, the more troubled you become. Turn on the evening news tonight. Count how many stories they report, and count how many of those stories are bad news. Head over to CNN.com. How many of their “Latest news” stories are negative (as of this writing, out of 19 stories, 3 are about deaths by accident or murder, 2 are about the war in Gaza, 3 are about aspects of the economic crisis, and 3 are about the end of the Bush years and people’s negative view of them – all in all, 11 of 19 stories with a predominantly negative vibe – and today actually isn’t all that bad, with headlines dominated by the amazing US Airways water landing in New York)? The point is, everybody knows that the world is screwed up. It’s filled with suffering and tragedy – all driven by sin. We all, when we’re honest with ourselves, know that we’re screwed up. We’re driven by anger, bitterness, lust, greed, jealousy, pride – all things that we know are wrong but which infest our hearts and drive our actions anyway. The seeds of the world’s evil are planted in each of our hearts. So, we can certainly understand Solomon’s feeling that the more you know, the more you wish you didn’t. Ignorance is bliss.
However, the true vanity is wisdom is seen in the fact that though it allows one to see the brokenness of the world, it doesn’t enable one to fix it. As Solomon says, “What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted.” He saw a broken world, and he also saw that he was powerless to fix that world. Look around – the centuries of human history have been filled with wise men, yet we still have the same problems that we had 3000 years ago in Solomon’s day. Wars are still fought over the same issues, people are still downtrodden and oppressed for the same reasons, and relationships still break and fail because of the same shortcomings. We cannot fix the problem, because we are the problem. Sin is destroying the world, and we cannot destroy sin. Thus, Solomon concludes that wisdom only serves to increase the sorrow and stress of a man. He becomes like one who is watching a loved one drown while he himself is chained to a tree on the shore – able to diagnose the problem, but incapable of fixing it, and emotionally destroyed because of it.
Where, then, is hope? Why does God call us to seek wisdom? The wisdom that God calls us to is his own, and it always leads us back to him, and by leading us back to him, it leads to a solution that Solomon couldn’t fully comprehend – Jesus Christ. Christ can deal with the brokenness of the world. His grace and forgiveness are the only things that can overcome sin in our lives. He is the only one who offers hope. However, before we can see the greatness of the solution, we must come face-to-face with the depth of the problem. Otherwise, we will end up like the Pharisees, convinced that we’re just fine, thank you, and in no need of what Jesus offers. Don’t be afraid to stare the darkness of this world – and your own heart – in the face. Let the problem drive you to the one solution that can offer the world hope, and your heart peace.
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