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Wisdom and Work According to an Old King

At times when King Solomon is writing his memoirs in the book of Ecclesiastes he is almost sarcastic as he constantly reminds his readers (with a cynical attitude) that everything in life is like chasing after the wind. He mentions that wisdom does have an advantage over the fool, he also says that the wise and foolish person ends up at the same place … the grave. He suggests that even the wise person is forgotten, and I get the sense from his comments that no matter what, even for the wise, life is difficult and futile:

Ecclesiastes 2:17 So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

As I have been wading through the various areas of life that Solomon mentions, I get the feeling he is building a case against living that is all meaningless. No amount of money, fame, wealth, or intellect will be worth the pain of enduring a lifetime on earth.

At times, I think I am reading the memoirs of a grumpy old man, but then when you analyze what he is saying, he has a perspective that clearly underscores the reality of life. Solomon is building a case that there is only one thing that is not meaningless in all of this, and we will get to his conclusion in another blog posting. For now, let’s see what Solomon says about work.

Solomon says he hated the work he labored at all his life. Why? He had to leave it to someone else. No matter what wisdom is used and what skill is applied, all is left to the people who follow you. It is up to them to dismantle or change the direction of your life's work. Solomon is always seeing this world as so temporary, and so unstable from generation to generation, that no matter what is accomplished, it can all be changed in the next generation. I have seen this happen in my lifetime. As a young man, marijuana was taboo and was illegal. Today, marijuana is now being legalized throughout the land as a recreational drug. Something as simple as this is an example of what Solomon was saying. People change, and the work you may do to provide a better culture or society for them will not be remembered due to the persistent need to get what they want. He calls it futile and a pursuit of the wind.

Well, there you have it … wisdom and work are two more categories he makes clear that in the end are futile and meaningless. I find it interesting that the more we pursue education in our society, the more we move away from the truth. Of course, education isn't wisdom, but it can make one think in a specific direction, depending on the bias of the education. A lot has been accomplished in having an educated society, it brings changes and discoveries that do benefit a nation. However, on the backside of education, there is a bias toward science, facts, data, and statistics which can all become opponents to having faith in God as a driving force in a person's life. The two do not have to be mutually exclusive, but education is not usually favorable toward the faith community.

In Solomon’s viewpoint of futility, education has not solved our problems as human beings, it has the same status in his eyes as everything else we pursue … it’s like chasing the wind. The reason I used education is because we usually educate to find work. Normally, the pursuit of knowledge in our world is not as often for the desire to know more, it is to become better equipped to get more from the work we do. Again, wisdom and work in the eyes of Solomon have some advantages, but in the end, all my wisdom and accomplishments of working will end up in the same place as the fool who has no education and is unemployed.

I guess from an empirical point of view, Solomon is right. All of life boils down to an ending, and the end is the same for all. In other words, Solomon sees life as a race where all have a starting line, and no matter how fast and how athletic you are over the other contestants, everyone finishes at the same time at the end of the race. The competitive and the derelict come to the same conclusion, and that to Solomon is meaningless.

So, what are we to make of what this old king is saying? Does he have a case for us in our modern world? I do think so because I too believe that death is the great equalizer. It is not the accomplishments, the wisdom, the wealth, or the lack of these things that will matter when death happens. Will the character of the person matter in the next stage of the afterlife? Often, what is dismissed in the modern world is the belief in God, and the character that is formed in a person as a result of believing is what will be valuable after we die. I think that is the futility Solomon is ultimately driving at … that no amount of anything we pursue in this world will be meaningful, except faith in God. That is a strong statement for most of us to stomach, but as Solomon continues to unpack life in this world as meaningless, we will discover in his final conclusion why his attitude took this sarcastic and futile outlook.

I guess for me, it makes me reflect on the idea of chasing the wind. How much of my time, efforts, and motivation are simply chasing the wind? We can find meaning and significance in this world, but it is often not in the things most of us pursue. Solomon makes a case that even a boatload of positive things in a person’s life can still be futile and like chasing the wind … if you do it without God. That will be Solomon’s conclusion to all his sarcasm about life. We will see as we continue in this observation series in Ecclesiastes that all of this will make sense from an old king from long ago.

Challenging the Culture with Truth … Larry Kutzler

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