I’m a nerd. I admit it.
I enjoy reading and learning. I’ve not always been this way, but somewhere during my bachelor’s degree, I started enjoying learning new information. There were even shortcuts to learning I picked up. There are ways to absorb large amounts of information very quickly. But I’m not incredibly smart.
And that’s not just a self-depreciating comment. I’m about average intelligence but there are two things working for me: persistence and observation. I don’t give up until I’ve learned something I want to learn and I try to pay attention so I don’t have to pay the “dumb taxes” others have already paid.
The difficulties of life, however, vex me. They vex me sore! (Told you I was a nerd—who talks like that?!?) I’ve seen people suffer through tragic circumstances and even in my own life I often find myself finding a purpose to the pain.
You’ve been there too…I’ve observed that.
We’re not the first to pursue a definition for life. We’re not the first to ask these questions. But we’re far from the most qualified.
Solomon of Israel, however, most certainly was the most qualified. Of all the people on earth (past or present) to solve the problems of life and the trivialness it can come to, it was King Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes. As the wisest person ever live, he had all the mental ability to put together the broken pieces of life into a meaningful picture. It would seem, his vast wisdom would serve him well. Here is what he concludes about this study in Ecclesiastes 1:12-18:
“I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 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! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted. 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.” 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. For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”
Wow. Didn’t see that one coming! When Solomon set his mind to studying the quandaries and difficulties of life, he set his eyes widely across the landscape of human life. His conclusions?
Life is hard!
Life is pointless!
Wisdom of all this only makes it worse!
Isn’t that remarkable? The more Solomon learned, the more he realized the difficulty and emptiness of life. Yet, this actually makes sense. The more a person seeks knowledge and wisdom, the more they realize how little they know. An old proverb quips, “A wise man is never happy.”
I’ve turned a lot of my attention to leadership and leadership development. But for all I’ve learned about both of those practices, I’m overwhelmed by all there is still to learn. Truly: the more I learn, the less I know.
Yet the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom is one of those qualities given to us by God. It’s part of His image stamped on us (cf. Genesis 1 and 2). The Lord made humanity curious. The Lord endowed us with the drive to learn more, to push the boundaries of knowledge. This is the blessing and burden God has laid on humanity. But a person’s most “god-like” qualities only bring misery to a godless life.
And this is exactly what happens when our pursuits of knowledge and wisdom are undertaken without God as part of our process. Science tells us the universe is a closed system. History teaches us the cyclical nature of life. Philosophy tells us there’s a part of us that is never understood.
This is the miracle of God:
he broke into the closed, cyclical,
ignorant universe of our lives
and bestowed on us purpose and direction.
Contrast the pointlessness of seeking godless wisdom with the opening verses from one of Jesus’ closest earthly companions, John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1–5, 14).
The darkness of seeking knowledge and wisdom apart from God is truly a futile undertaking. All we’ll end up with is more questions—questions that will haunt us.
When the light of Jesus illuminates our minds, hearts, and souls, then our pursuit has meaning, significance, and becomes a source of life because (as Solomon also wrote) “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…” (Proverbs 1:7a)