And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind. For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.
I read about a teacher who wrote this on little Johnny’s report card, “If ignorance is bliss, Johnny is going to be the happiest person in the world.” But…we all know that ignorance is not bliss. We want to learn things, know things, and experience things. We believe that education is the way out and the way up. The best degrees get us the best jobs. Advanced degrees help us climb the ladder. Experience sets our resumes apart.But Solomon concluded that more knowledge led to exasperation, and the more he knew, the sadder he became.
In his book, Living Life Backward, David Gibson explains this passage well.
These verses are the video diary of [Solomon’s] adventure through life. First, stop is Jerusalem University…. He studies and grows in wisdom. He learns from every professor and passes all his exams. He studies philosophy. He begins to understand how and why he understands. He studies the opposites of sanity and wisdom—madness and folly—to see what light they shed on understanding. All combine to be a “striving after the wind” (1:17). He learns so much and yet his heart aches like the man who knows nothing (1:18). Degree certificates line his study walls, but his tears are the same as the person working on the street who never went to school.¹
For many years our church has partnered with a ministry in the Mathare slums located outside of Nairobi, Kenya. We have seen a fledgling school with a few students grow into a respected high school that produces college students. We know that education is essential in getting out of the slums, and we also know that a high score on placement exams does not transform the human heart. Without Jesus, the more we know, the sadder we become. But with Jesus, we can use the gift of knowledge to worship and honor him all our days under the sun. Only Jesus can give us the right perspective to wisdom and knowledge.
Take a few seconds to thank God for your education, training, and experience.
Ask God to help your knowledge and experience result in humility, not pride.
Parents, ask God to help you teach your children that schooling and training are futile without Jesus.
Thank you, Father, for the gift of learning. Help us always keep our learning and experience in an eternal perspective. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
¹ David Gibson, Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End, (Wheaton, Ill., Crossway, 2017), 39.
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