The Limitless Nature of Learning

“I spoke to my heart, saying, ‘Behold! I have become great and I have surpassed the wisdom of all of those who are before me in Jerusalem and my heart has observed much wisdom and knowledge.’ I gave my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and foolishness. And I know that this too is what exasperates the spirit. For with an abundance of wisdom, there comes an abundance of grief and with an increase in knowledge comes an increase of suffering.”

(Ecclesiastes 1:16-18)

There is much to be said for the simple life. The Rabbi’s imply that Solomon relied too much on his supernatural gift of wisdom in ruling over Jerusalem rather than relying on the wisdom that comes from daily petitions in prayer. Is that not the trap that all of us tend to fall into? The more knowledge and understanding we amass, the more wisdom we are given, the more we feel as if we can live life on our own strength. Yet, God only gave a day’s worth of Manna in the wilderness and our Lord teaches us to pray for our “daily bread.” As believers, we must be a people committed to a daily reliance of the Lord’s wisdom and strength that comes through prayer and meditation upon the Word.

And so, Solomon spoke to his heart…in other words, he reflected and pondered an idea…and said, “Look, I am wiser and more knowledgeable than everyone else in Jerusalem…I have even surpassed those who have gone before me — the wise men of old — but I am still not satisfied.” He recognized that his pursued of wisdom and knowledge for the sake of wisdom and knowledge simply exasperates his spirit — it vexes his soul. Why? The answer is that our world was created by an infinite God, so there is a near-infinite body of knowledge to learn. Further, as more is discovered, we only discover how much more there is to know.

When I began seminary, I thought I had a pretty good handle on the Bible — I had been preaching as a layman for five years and I could hold my own in conversations with most of the pastors that I knew. Then, in my first semester of seminary, I was trounced in a debate with a second-year student. It was a that point, I realized that I had come to the right place for Biblical training. And so, I became like a sponge and absorbed everything that my professors could offer to me. Yet, by the end of my seminary experience, I came to terms with the reality that I had only scratched the surface. At this stage in my life, not only have I graduated from seminary, but I have spent twelve years in full-time ministry, I have taught Bible and theology on both a High School and a seminary level, and have been a conference speaker on several occasions. I have written a handful of books and have begun doctoral studies and most people look to me as an authority on that which I speak. But the more I learn, the more I realize how much more there is to know and the less I feel like an “expert” (whatever that is).

If the pursuit of knowledge were an end in this life, life would be exasperating. We would be overwhelmed by the immensity of the task and the impossibility of completing said task. Most would give up in despair. That is the heart of what Solomon is getting at with these words. Yet, knowledge and wisdom are not an end in and of themselves…in fact, they are not an end at all. They are a means to an end. The end is to know God — to know Christ and Him crucified, as Paul writes to the Corinthian church. So, if your pursuit of knowledge and wisdom simply leads you into a deeper love and appreciation for Christ, then the endlessness of the task is a blessing and a joy because it reminds you that you will never in this life (or in the life hereafter) exhaust the means of knowing and loving God better. And this we ought to celebrate. Yet, if we are bound by the earthly pursuit and it points us nowhere beyond nature, then we will just become more and more aware of suffering and grief in our midst — a depressing end for those who reject God.

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