Disclaimer up front: You know I love education and learning. You know I respect deep-thinking analyses of anything. I place no premium whatsoever upon ignorance. But advanced learning and knowledge is not the ultimate answer to the ills of this world. Serious education is a worthy pursuit, but so many people put all of their hopes in this basket; and though much good has come from scholarship and human advancement and understanding, it alone does not solve the ultimate problems of a crumbling, material world.
None was smarter than THE TEACHER, not even our local genius – most of you know who I’m talking about! 😊
Between my graduate educational years around some of the greatest minds ever in the Christian world (e.g. – exempli gratia – Charles Ryrie, of the Ryrie Study Bible), my two mega-genius half-brothers, and brilliant minds I’ve met through politics and Civil War scholarship, I have known some of the world’s smartest people. But I also know from them that being brilliant doesn’t solve life’s problems, in fact, it may make them worse.
Let me illustrate it this way: When you’re diagnosed with stage 5 melanoma, is there greater comfort in being an oncologist or a mere plumber? Quoting Solomon’s finale sentence today: For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.
I distinctly remember finishing high school and committing to attend college for a five-year, dual-degree program toward bachelor’s degrees in music and Bible. The 159 credit hours of education were charted on a single page that I studied over and over with amazement. I remember the exact spot where I was in my house as I shared this with my parents. It was a list of all the things that I would know EVERYTHING about after the five years were completed! Wow, I was going to be so smart!
What rather soon amazed me once I began that education is that what I was learning factually was merely the basic material that rose to about the level of the tops of my feet! The rest of it was “process” about how to continue to learn more and more over a lifetime of study and application.
I’ll illustrate that with discussing how to know about the Bible and its teachings. To understand the Scriptures deeply, you need to of course know all you can about the writer, the audience to whom he wrote, along with the historical context and occasion of his writing. That’s a lot to begin with.
But to really know the Bible deeply, you have to become a student of the original languages in which it was composed: Hebrew, Greek, and some Aramaic. OK. So, I began to study Greek, only to find out that there are different types of Greek at different ages (just as we have “Old English,” etc.). And to really know Hebrew, one needs to also have some basis in understanding other “Semitic” languages like Akkadian, Ugaritic and Syriac.
And then to interpret the information correctly, one needs to understand the philosophies of theological interpretation that have colored all the above information over the millennia.
After a very short time in advanced education, you have indeed come to know a great deal more than you knew before. But at the same time, an even larger world of what you do not know is now opened to you. So rather than feeling smarter, you feel more ignorant… because now you know of the existence of a universe of even more stuff that you know nothing about! What you learn is that you can never get to the bottom of much of anything. It is like trying to find the edge of the universe, it just keeps on going and growing.
The feeling is a lot like trying to chase the wind and somehow bottle it up for later use. What a great picture! (credit: Solomon of Jerusalem)
At the end of great learning … sin remains, injustice remains, death remains, futility still rules.
The only answer is one that we will see has to come from beyond this world. But at this point of Solomon’s text, we’re still at the “meaningless” stage – his piling up of illustrations of the brevity and transitory nature of the material world. Feel the disillusionment building. Embrace it. There are bigger perspectives yet to come.
Ecclesiastes 1:12 – I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! 14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
15 What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.
16 I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” 17 Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.
18 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.