The Limits of Wisdom

The Limits of Wisdom
Ecclesiastes 2:1-17
“And I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness.”

If following God does not protect us from the hardships of life, then what is the point?  Sometimes, our circumstances seem to contradict the hope God promises us.  So, how do we reconcile the promises of God with the broken world we live in?  This is the question that Solomon confronts us with.  In the book of Proverbs, we repeatedly find the assurance that God blesses the wise while bringing hardship upon the wicked. We see the same promises in the New Testament.  Paul reminds us that “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28).  However, in Ecclesiastes, Solomon sees a different world in which the righteous suffer the same hardships as the wicked.  Death strikes both.  So, what is the point of pursuing wisdom if the outcome is the same?  This is the same question that plagued Job as he sat on an ash heap suffering from boils and felt the unspeakable pain of having lost everything.  In the end, both the righteous and the wicked, both the wise and the fool, face the same outcome (vs. 14-15).  Both face death (vs 16). So, what is the benefit of pursuing the wisdom of God?

We struggle with the same questions when we face adversity and trials.  Walking in obedience to God does not protect us from the pain of life.  Cancer strikes both the wicked and the righteous with equal ferocity.  Both still lose their jobs and suffer economic uncertainty.  This leads to frustration and discouragement in life (vs. 17) and can even lead to a denial of God. In these verses, Solomon reminds us of the limits of godly wisdom in the present age.  Solomon is not saying wisdom is of no value, but that even the wise experience the tragedies of life.  If Job asked the question, “Why do the righteous suffer,” Solomon confronts us with the question, “What is the point of wisdom if it does not prevent suffering?”

Just when we would expect Solomon to abandon his faith in despair, he hints at the answer to his quest. Solomon still affirms that wisdom has value, for “wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness. The wise man’s eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness” (13-14).  In these verses, we see a hint to the answer to the riddle.  Wisdom does not insulate us from life's problems but gives perspective. We live in a broken world where sin still reigns and manifests its destructive power in both the wicked and the wise.  However, the wicked lack perspective.  They have no answer and so they grope in the darkness without hope.  The wise, however, see more clearly.  They see the potential disaster and are prepared.  They can have a different perspective because they live with the awareness of death.  

While Solomon reminds us we live in a broken world, he also hints that there is an answer and perspective that enables us to rise above it. This answer will be fully realized in the work of Christ. Christ did not come to insulate us from the tragedy of death, but he came to give us victory over death.  We will still suffer in the present, but we have hope for eternity in Christ. Wisdom comes when we see beyond the present and see the hope of our salvation.

Like Solomon, we often become overwhelmed with the present trials and despair because we face the same tragedy that all people face.  Much to our chagrin, salvation does not protect us from the struggles of life.  However, it does give us hope.  Paul provides the answer to Solomon’s frustration when he writes, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18). God does not promise to protect us from the sufferings of this present world, but he does promise us the hope of the resurrection when sin will no longer have its destructive effects.  

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