Monday, August 14, 2023

The Vanity of Knowledge (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18)

"… he who increases knowledge increases sorrow" (Eccl. 1:18).

The Preacher describes himself as one who was devoted to study and to the exploration of wisdom. He wanted to understand the internal complexities of human nature and unravel the mysteries of the physical universe. Like scientists of our own day, he charted the vast array of constellations and studied the alignment of planets. He was a scholar, a philosopher, and a theologian whose wisdom attracted dignitaries from foreign lands.

The Preacher had attained profound intellectual achievements, but he remained unhappy. The pursuit of wisdom and the increase of knowledge brought him no joy, but only grief and sorrow. Those who enjoy study, who love to expand their mental horizons, might find this difficult to understand at first. What could be more exciting than to explore God’s creation and to grow in an understanding of the complexities of life? How could the Preacher, a scientist, an artist, a philosopher, a poet, an architect, find only sorrow in the midst of such intellectual wealth? Bishop Hall answers, “Whosoever gets much wisdom, shall be sure to get much sorrow to boot; since the more he knows, the more cause of grief shall he find; for both he shall see more that he cannot know, and in that which he does know he shall perceive so much vanity, that it shall pierce and humble his soul.”

The Preacher pursued wisdom and knowledge as ends unto themselves. As a result, he became confounded by the vanity of knowledge. When one explores the intricacies of science and the daunting questions of philosophy without a thought to God as the author of all things, one will grasp only shadows. The substance of science and philosophy lies in God Himself. Without Him, we will ultimately find only grief and sorrow. Only heavenly wisdom—that which leads to a knowledge of God—can lift one above the vanity and shadows of this world. “He is a wise man—and happy in his wisdom, who is thus ‘wise unto salvation,’ ” Bridges wrote. “If [the Preacher] with his mighty grasp of intellect could find no rest in earthly wisdom, who else can expect it?” Wisdom that resides in Gospel truth and knowledge that is built on the foundation of Christ rise above the sorrow of this world and fill us with happiness and delight.

Paul Johnson’s book Intellectuals analyzes the lives of great thinkers that have impacted our culture—Marx, Rousseau, Ibsen, etc. If you are able, purchase this book and look into the hopeless lives of men who pursued knowledge but not God. Compare their conclusions to the wisdom of Ecclesiastes.