Weakness of Wisdom
Any child of the 80’s will remember the catchy theme song from the short educational cartoons, Schoolhouse Rock, which opened with that memorable phrase, “It’s great to learn, because knowledge is power!” And as far as much of life is concerned, this is true. Knowledge and wisdom can often be the keys to success in many of our life endeavors. However, it’s not uncommon for modern intellectuals to put too much stock in wisdom and knowledge––making knowledge out to be the ultimate solution to every human problem. In Ecclesiastes 1.12-18, Solomon teaches us not the capabilities of wisdom and knowledge but their limitations. And in so doing, he points us to true and ultimate wisdom.
Solomon points out two weakness of wisdom and knowledge that make clear their limitations. First, wisdom cannot change reality. Elsewhere in this book and in other places, Solomon will commend wisdom to us (Eccles. 2:13, 7:12, 10:10). And as he begins his quest for satisfaction and joy under the sun, he is using wisdom—this is a good thing! However, his comprehensive quest (1:12-13), with all his vast wisdom and knowledge, comes up with a disappointing result—it is an ‘unhappy business,’ ‘vanity,’ and a ‘striving after wind.’ Striving after the wind is another phrase Solomon will use in this book to describe life under the sun. In this fleeting breath of a life in a fallen world, our efforts to control or get a handle on our circumstances are like trying to literally “shepherd” the wind. It’s an image of inability––even impossibility.
Solomon uses a proverb to illustrate what he’s discovered about wisdom. “What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted” (Eccles. 1:15). Not only is it an act of futility to try to change the fleeting nature of this life, but the unhappy reality under the sun is that sometimes we find ourselves in circumstances that are simply bent or damaged beyond repair. And Solomon would have us know that it is the better part of wisdom to recognize that all the wisdom under the sun might not fix what is broken. This is not meant to cause us to despair, but to turn to the God who knows all and who holds all our times in his hand (3:1, 11).
The second feature of wisdom’s weakness is that wisdom increases sorrow (1:16-18). Here is something wisdom does do for us. Solomon (perhaps the most credentialed man to undertake this quest—see 1 Kings 4:29-34), in his unflinching, unadulterated view of mankind (1:17), concludes that not only are madness and folly perpetual realities under the sun, but the very accumulation of knowledge and wisdom leads to vexation and sorrow over those realities of evil in this broken world (1:18).
None of what Solomon saw and knew and discovered exists on its own. This is all part of the world East of Eden––groaning creation awaiting its redemption (Rom. 8:20-23)––a mankind brought into the estate of sin and misery––and it must be recognized for what it is in order that we might know and cherish the ultimate solution. The weakness of wisdom must lead us to Wisdom Himself, the Lord Jesus. If Solomon, the quintessential man of wisdom, whose accumulation of wisdom increased his sorrows, how much more do we see in this a picture of the Man of Sorrows—the One who wept when he was face to face with death (John 11:35). Jesus is the the One who came into the vexing troubles of this world, to seek and to save that which was lost. It is in the “foolishness” of the cross (1 Cor. 1:18) where we see most clearly the Wisdom of God who is the final answer and solution to all that is crooked and bent beyond repair in the lives of His people. Jesus, the Wisdom of God, can, did, and will change reality, and He will wipe sorrows tears away. So we must say with the Apostle Paul: “We preach Christ crucified…Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
Rev. Jeffrey J. Windt is the Assistant Minister for Youth and Families at Second Presbyterian Church of Greenville, SC (PCA). Jeff and his wife Mariah have three sons, Jonah (9), Elijah (5), and Jude (2).