Ecclesiastes P2: Sorrow in Wisdom?

“For in much wisdom is much grief,
And he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.”
[Ecclesiastes 1:18]

Knowledge comes with both delight and sorrow. There is delight in understanding but also sorrow in realisation. Solomon, author of Ecclesiastes and one well known for being a man of wisdom, speaks also about the grief of wisdom.

“I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind.” (v.14)

Aware of how everything on earth is temporal in comparison to the eternity of heaven, Solomon concludes that everything is a “grasping for the wind”. The question here is age-old – what is the purpose of life on earth? Trying to make sense of this question, Solomon then makes the following observation:

“What is crooked cannot be made straight,
And what is lacking cannot be numbered.” (v.15)

Here he reflects on the futility of man’s efforts. There are things that cannot be changed by human effort. Realising this, Solomon concludes that even wisdom is a “grasping for the wind”, since there are things we cannot understand no matter how wise we are. Here is a man who has been blessed with greater understanding and knowledge than many before Him. Yet, even Solomon finds no rest in his own capability.

“And I set my heart from know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is grasping for the wind.” (v.17)

img_3539People often say that ”the more we know, the more we realise we don’t know.” Science is always searching out more about the depth of our seas, more about the expanse of space. It seems never ending – new species, new stars, all kinds of phenomenon that just happen. We cannot change the life cycle of a star. We cannot reverse the in-drawing appetite of a black hole. We merely observe these things and wonder.

 It is much easier to be in oblivion, free from taking responsibility, or making the decisions that knowledge sometimes makes harder. For example, the more we know someone, and the more we build this relationship, the more we can grow to love them. However, at the same time, we also learn more about their struggles and sometimes this makes it harder to love them. We are then faced with a choice – what do we say, how do we react? Our words and actions can either build up or tear down.

What about the injustice on earth. If we did not know, we would not care. Yet, we know, we understand that suffering is not right, and we try to make a difference. Small battles are won, but suffering always seems to continue.


What is the point of all this?

img_3540The story of Adam and Eve lends an explanation to Solomon’s realisation of sorrow in wisdom. In the beginning, Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden of Eden. They spent every day in His presence, enjoying His creation and enjoying relationship with God Himself. The day they tasted the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, was the day sin entered the world. Adam and Eve realised their nakedness, they realised their sin, and they realised their separation from God. They traded knowledge of their Maker, for knowledge of the world and the sufferings of sin. Knowledge of the world does not satisfy. It is an empty knowledge compared with the knowledge of God, which empowers us with truth even in our humanity.

As [Proverbs 9:10] says:

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

Again, I see our mindset contrasted with God’s in exploring wisdom and knowledge.

We think wisdom comes from our own understanding,
but wisdom is actually God’s understanding.

We think that if we have more knowledge, we can fix more things;
but ultimately God is the one who builds and destroys.

We think that greater understanding will afford us greater self-worth;
but it is actually only in knowing God, and understanding His love for us that we can truly find our peace.

Wisdom gives sorrow because we understand our limitations. However, it also gives joy because someone with greater ability than us is in control. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” God guides our way in life, and He does it according to His will. “…knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” So, let our seeking understanding start first with knowing God.

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