The LimIts of Human Wisdom
Everything is meaningless. Ecclesiastes 1:2 (NIV)
Ecclesiastes is a short book; it has only twelve chapters. Yet Ecclesiastes is a high point of the wisdom literature in the sense that it shows the limits of man’s earthbound wisdom, just as Job shows the limits of man’s knowledge. Ecclesiastes is essentially a sermon on one text: “‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’” As anyone can tell just by looking at the subheads in the New International Version, the preacher develops the text to make these points:
- Wisdom is meaningless.
- Pleasures are meaningless.
- Wisdom and folly are meaningless.
- Toil is meaningless.
- Advancement is meaningless.
- Riches are meaningless.
But if God is sovereign over the affairs of his creation, if he has a single supreme purpose in all he does, and that purpose is a good purpose because he is a good God, then how are we to understand Ecclesiastes?
The answer is that this book shows us the limits and hence the folly of human wisdom apart from revelation. Apart from what God is doing in Jesus Christ and in our lives, the last part of which is at best only partially revealed to us, everything is indeed “meaningless.” There is more, of course. There is what God is doing, what he reveals. But before we can see those things, we need to see that there is no meaning in anything apart from them. One of the great proofs of our lack of wis- dom is that we do not see even this fundamental point of earthly wisdom clearly.
Even Christians don’t. Otherwise, why would they spend so much of their time and energy working for things that do not satisfy at any significant level and, in fact, will never do so?
Why do they spend their time acquiring houses and cars and television sets and fine furniture, which will eventually depreciate and decay?
Why do they work for increasingly larger paychecks and bank accounts, which they will not be able to take with them to heaven when they die?
Why do they yearn for earthly recognition, which can vanish in a flash?
Why do we do these things? We do them because we have not learned even the rudimentary earthly wisdom of Ecclesiastes, let alone the infinitely more profound wisdom of the revealed counsels of God. Yet we presume to suppose that we can criticize God for what he is doing in our lives. We think that we could tell him how to do things better, if we only had the chance. What folly! What utter folly! We who think we are teachers need to learn again the first principles of the oracles of God.