The More You Know (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18)

Main Idea: We don’t primarily need to know things, we need to know a Person. And God has given us a way to know Him: through Jesus.

Text:

Correct me if I’m wrong, mom, but I started going to preschool when I was 4 years old. Is that right? Then after going through Kindergarten, Elementary School, Middle School, and High School, I graduated from High School when I was 18 years old. After that, I attended college for four years, and then seminary for six years, and I graduated with a Masters in Divinity when I was 28 years old, so that I was in school for a total of 24 years of my life.

The average lifespan of a male in the United States is currently 77 years old, so assuming that I live an average lifespan today, which isn’t guaranteed, I will have spent almost a third of my life in school.

Now, I believe that a good education is important, and I believe it’s important that we continue to learn and grow even after we finish going to school. And yet, there’s truly no end to the things that we can learn. And even if we were to spend every waking moment of all of our lives learning things, we still wouldn’t even come close to knowing even a minute fraction of all the things that can be known about the world we live in.

So in a way, it’s really kind of irrational how much emphasis we put on learning and making rational decisions, when we can’t possibly know all the ins and outs about anything in order to make a truly rational decision. At some point, no matter what the subject, no matter what your belief system, every decision comes down to taking a leap of faith.

So, will you leap toward God, or away from Him?

Ecclesiastes 1:12-18

I, the Teacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. I applied my mind to examine and explore through wisdom all that is done under heaven. God has given people this miserable task to keep them occupied. I have seen all the things that are done under the sun and have found everything to be futile, a pursuit of the wind.
What is crooked cannot be straightened;
what is lacking cannot be counted.
I said to myself, “See, I have amassed wisdom far beyond all those who were over Jerusalem before me, and my mind has thoroughly grasped wisdom and knowledge.” I applied my mind to know wisdom and knowledge, madness and folly; I learned that this too is a pursuit of the wind.
For with much wisdom is much sorrow;
as knowledge increases, grief increases. (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18)

Father, You alone know all things, and we’re in awe of Your knowledge and wisdom. Help us to increase in wisdom in such a way as to know You, and not merely to boast in ourselves. I pray that we would grow in our knowledge and faithfulness to Jesus. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

One way to think about the book of Ecclesiastes is to think about it in terms of the ways that we attempt to save ourselves, not in the sense of saving ourselves from our sin, but rather in the sense that we attempt to save ourselves from meaninglessness. Nobody wants to live a meaningless life, so those that truly believe that life is meaningless either decide to lay in bed all day, refusing to live life, saying “What’s the point,” or else they decide to invent an arbitrary meaning to live by, which they fully admit is ultimately meaningless.

I think we’ve all experienced this to some degree, and probably both of these extremes to some extent at times in our lives. And the reason we’ve sometimes done this is because it’s so very easy to get distracted by lesser things rather than looking to the true Meaning and Purpose for all things, which is found in God alone.

And that’s really what Ecclesiastes is all about. It takes a look at all the lesser things, and shows that they are all meaningless in and of themselves.

Verse 12.

I, the Teacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. I applied my mind to examine and explore through wisdom all that is done under heaven. God has given people this miserable task to keep them occupied. I have seen all the things that are done under the sun and have found everything to be futile, a pursuit of the wind. (Ecclesiastes 1:12-14)

We talked last week about how the author of Ecclesiastes is historically believed to be Solomon. So Solomon, the king of Israel, who had everything he could possibly want, including great wisdom, sought to understand the purpose of life. And he came to the conclusion that in and of themselves, all the things that we might do in life are meaningless, like chasing after the wind.

He’s going to expand on this in the chapters to come, but he’s talking about things like making money, and accomplishing noble tasks, and seeking to understand all the complexities of human nature and how the universe functions. All of these things, that seem like necessities of life and many of which even seem to be worthy actions, if done merely for the sake of the actions themselves, are completely futile. They don’t matter at all.

And we all know this from our own experiences as well. We’ve all felt the endless cycle of getting up, going to work or school, only to go home exhausted after a long day and needing to repeat the routine again tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. And we’ve likely all wondered, “What’s the point?”

In fact, in the cynical tone that we often read in Ecclesiastes, talking about the task of examining and exploring the meaning of life, the Teacher writes that “God has given people this miserable task to keep them occupied.” So not only can we feel like life is pointless, we can also feel like trying to think through all these things is pointless. Like God just gave us this miserable task to keep us busy.

Personally, I think science is pretty cool. I love learning about how everything in the world and even all of the universe works together and is balanced in such a way so that we can live in and enjoy what God has made. And science is the process by which we understand how all of it works. I think that’s pretty cool.

And I also love philosophy, which is the logical process by which we analyze ideas, to seek to know what’s true by ruling out whatever is illogical and self-contradictory. And then there are other areas of life in which we can learn and grow, such as studying history, math, the arts, and psychology. And these are all huge fields that we can learn a lot from.

But Solomon looks at studying all these kinds of things and just says, “God has given people this miserable task to keep them occupied.” Because if we study any of these things just for their own sake, in a million years, or likely even just in a hundred years, no one cares what we personally learned about any of these things.

And Solomon hits this point over and over again in the book of Ecclesiastes, to the point that you get the sense that he’s extremely depressed about it, and it’s likely that he was depressed about it at one point in his life. But he does this to drive us to the point of seeing that there is only one way to do these things that gives them any meaning at all: and that’s as we look to God as our Lord in all these things.

God wants us to learn. God wants us to see the beauty of how He made all things. God wants to see how we’re fearfully and wonderfully made so that we can praise Him for all His wondrous works.

But without factoring God into the equation, Solomon wants us to simply see the utter pointlessness of doing even good things without the motivation of glorifying God. So he quotes a proverb in verse 15.

What is crooked cannot be straightened;
what is lacking cannot be counted. (Ecclesiastes 1:15)

Solomon appears to be quoting a proverb in this verse, but there’s actually no evidence that such a proverb ever even existed. So it’s entirely possible that this proverb is one of Solomon’s own proverbs, which he himself wrote, since 1 Kings states that Solomon wrote over 3,000 proverbs. But whereas all of Solomon’s proverbs in the book of Proverbs are built on the foundation of faith in God, it’s interesting that this proverb seems to take a very pessimistic and even humanistic view of justice, saying that “what is crooked cannot be straightened.”

The Hebrew word translated “crooked” in this verse refers specifically to a perversion of justice. Likewise, the word “straightened” means to put right, or set something into its proper order. So the proverb seems to be saying that in the beginning, even if everything was originally good, and everything was in its proper order, at some point, we all messed everything up and made everything crooked, and there’s nothing we can do to make things right again.

Of course, from the whole of Scripture, we know that he’s talking about sin. We’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We’ve messed up the perfect world that God created.

So much of life, we try to make crooked things straight. And that’s a worthy pursuit! We should want to show justice to those who have been mistreated. We should want to try to do better, and be better. We should want to help sinners, which is all of us, to learn to live righteously. But we can’t possibly undo the injustice that has already been done. “What is crooked cannot be straightened.”

So when we come to the second part of the proverb, the reality of our sin ought to hit us like a ton of bricks. Solomon writes that what is lacking, or morally deficient, cannot be counted. We can’t count how great our righteousness is, because we have none to count! And our wisdom is the same way.

We think we know so much, and we boast in our knowledge, but when it comes down to it, we don’t know nothing.

Verse 16.

I said to myself, “See, I have amassed wisdom far beyond all those who were over Jerusalem before me, and my mind has thoroughly grasped wisdom and knowledge.” I applied my mind to know wisdom and knowledge, madness and folly; I learned that this too is a pursuit of the wind. (Ecclesiastes 1:16-17)

So Solomon, being incredibly wise, sought to understand it all, and it drove him crazy. So he even sought to understand madness and folly.

It’s funny how we can boast about all sorts of things, when our greatest acts of righteousness were nothing but filthy rags before God, and the most wise people who have ever walked the face of the earth know little to nothing about all the intricacies of what happens in our finely-tuned universe every single moment of our existence. So while it’s good to learn these things, and we should certainly embrace growing in knowledge and wisdom, it’s a never ending pursuit, like chasing after the wind. We can’t make our lives mean something through our pursuit of knowledge, as good as knowledge is. And if we try to go that route, we’ll go crazy!

They say that there’s a fine line between genius and insanity. Some of the most brilliant thinkers from history went crazy, I think because there’s so much to learn, and the pursuit of trying to know it all because you think you need to know it all can drive you mad!

Remember learning the Pythagorean theorem in school? a2+b2=c2? It was discovered by a brilliant mathematician named…wait for it…Pythagoras. Really smart guy. But he went a little crazy. Among other things, he started his own religion called Pythagoreanism, in which some of the commandments were “Do not walk on highways,” and “Do not step over a crossbar,” and “Do not, under any circumstances, eat beans.” And that was one of his commandments because he believed that certain beans contained the souls of the dead. So remember that the next time you need to use the Pythagorean theorem.

Now, I’m not saying that if you study science and math too much, you’ll become like that. But the Bible is saying that if you seek knowledge purely for the sake of knowledge, it’s ultimately a meaningless pursuit and can lead you into dangerous waters.

Verse 18.

For with much wisdom is much sorrow;
as knowledge increases, grief increases. (Ecclesiastes 1:18)

There’s a little jingle that ended a lot of public service announcements on TV. There would be a commercial that wasn’t selling anything, but just encouraged us to be good, decent people, and the commercial would end with the little melody, with the words on the screen saying, “the more you know.”

[Clip of “The More You Know”]

Remember that? And that’s what many, maybe even most people think life is all about. We think that if we could just know everything about certain things, whether it’s science, or politics, or whatever, then we would happily live the way we need to live. But it’s not true.

Solomon writes that the more we know, the more sorrowful we are. “The more you know, the sadder you’ll be.” We can’t be fulfilled in life because of knowledge. Some of us love to occupy our minds with trying to figure everything out. But there’s no end to it!

Interestingly, Jesus, being God in the flesh, knew all things, and He was called the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief.

It’s interesting that honest unbelievers fully admit that they believe life is meaningless, and yet they don’t live that way. They cling to this idea that life has the meaning and purpose of which they decide, based on their knowledge, which they must admit is ultimately meaningless. So they actually have faith in the knowledge that they think they’ve come to know, while dismissing the knowledge that doesn’t line up with what they think they know! So even unbelievers live not according to science, but faith.

You see, in the end, we don’t really need more knowledge, we need more faith. And I say that not at all to imply that knowledge and wisdom are bad things, because they are actually very good things, but not to boast in or find our primary satisfaction in. We don’t ultimately need more knowledge in order to save ourselves. We need to trust in the God who made all things, and who knows all things, so that we can know Him.

We often need to admit that we don’t know what we don’t know. In the age of technology and the internet, sometimes people reason that we don’t need God anymore. But the Bible teaches that the opposite is true. Our quest for knowledge reveals a deeper desire in us to know and be known, by Him.

In other words, we don’t primarily need to know things, we need to know a Person. And even though we’ve all sinned and can’t make straight what we’ve already made crooked, God has given us a way to know Him: through Jesus.

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus entered through the narrow gate, and He is the narrow gate, so that when we rest in Him, we’re saved not by our superior knowledge and life, as if we can make something of ourselves, but by Jesus’s righteousness applied to us through His perfect life, death, and resurrection.

Pastor Chris Huff

Pastor Chris Huff has been with us since July 2009.  He and his wife, Abby, have four children.  Chris is originally from St. Louis, MO and even though he was raised as a city boy, he has a small town heart. Chris is all over the internet, so you can find him on Facebook, Twitter,… (read more)

Bible Passages: Ecclesiastes 1:12-18
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