Life Under The Sun
Welcome In The Name Of The Father, and The Son, and The Holy Spirit.
The old, dusty, Preacher King gathers his people before him and asks them to reconsider all the ambitious schemes they’ve hatched in their noggins. He tells them in essence, “I’ve been there and done that already, this isn’t my first rodeo, I’ve been around the block a time and two, and believe you me, kiddo, there’s no redemption at the end of the road you’re taking.”
Preacher Man Solomon tells the people: it’s all vanity.
He begins with his beginning: Wisdom.
Now, Wisdom had been his old companion. Wisdom was the first and oldest tool in his royal toolbox. Before King David died he said his son, Solomon, was young and inexperienced, and Solomon for his part did an extraordinary thing; instead of being offended, he listened to his dear old dad (1st Chronicles 22.5)! So it was that Solomon asked the Lord for wisdom.
Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”
(1 Kings 3:9 ESV)
The point of wisdom, for Solomon, when he was young and wet behind the ears, was to discern between good and evil, so that he might be a good king, so that he might be a good servant of God.
So why is it that old Preacher man Solomon seems to take a different view? Surely discerning between good and evil doesn’t go out of style like your clothes? Not your clothes, per se, other people’s, of course.
Isn’t truth timeless? Isn’t choosing good always in style?
Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction,
and be attentive, that you may gain insight,
for I give you good precepts;
do not forsake my teaching.
When I was a son with my father,
tender, the only one in the sight of my mother,
he taught me and said to me,
“Let your heart hold fast my words;
keep my commandments, and live.
Get wisdom; get insight;
do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.
Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;
love her, and she will guard you.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,
and whatever you get, get insight.
Prize her highly, and she will exalt you;
she will honor you if you embrace her.
She will place on your head a graceful garland;
she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.”
(Proverbs 4:1-9 ESV)
It is fascinating that the Holy Spirit chose to personify wisdom as a woman. Word to the wise, husbands, word to the wise, sons.
But what’s going on with Solomon in Ecclesiastes verses Solomon in Proverbs? Had he gone sour on wisdom?
Wisdom is a beautiful thing, if her purpose is to know the triune God deeply and profoundly. But she is a terrible replacement for God. As always, the motives of your heart determines something’s value.
Why are you reading all those books? Why are you dishing out all that tuition? Are you trying to serve God deeply? Are you trying to prepare yourself to help people?
Are you trying to be perceived as the smartest kid in any room?
Are you trying to win to get somebody to say, “You’re right.” on Facebook?
Vanity of vanities, I’ve yet to see such a thing!
Or are you trying to outwit God?
Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.
It is literally vain to say or to even think, “Hey. Listen to my diploma rather than what you just read in the Word of God.”
That is, however, what is going on.
This vanity is going on in too many “Churches”.
This vanity is going on all over the internet.
This vanity is going on all over the television.
“Listen to my diploma rather than what you just read in God’s book. Let me tell you why it doesn’t mean what it means.”
Christ at the center is humble wisdom.
Christ edited out, well, that’s vainglorious wisdom.
A Cross-less, Christ-less, Resurrection-less life is just less.
What does Solomon say?
The Vanity of Wisdom
 I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem.  And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.  I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.
There are many lenses through which you can look at the world. The Preacher says the first one he tried was wisdom. What does he conclude? Vanity. Striving after the wind. What are other lenses, or worldviews through which people try to make sense of the world? Philosophy. Education. Science. Nature. Darwinism. Economic. Psychological. Sociological. Religion. Government. Cultural. And there are a hundred more, no doubt.
I wonder why Solomon says it is an unhappy business God has given us to be busy with? Part of the answer has to do with the great breaking of the World way back in Genesis. The curse says we will work and work and work all the days of our lives, by the sweat of our brow, often with limited success, and regardless of how successful you are, it’ll all be dust in no time.
It is also an unhappy business God has given us to be busy with because life is unbelievably painful, if you’re honest that is, and I never assume people are, but if you are honest, you will admit that life is often marked by searing loss and disappointment. This too makes life an unhappy business.
This is why the Church must be as safe of a place for those who are suffering as the Scriptures are.
The biggest reason that Solomon can say that we humans are preoccupied with an unhappy busyness is because the human soul longs to be busy with redemptive things. This too is why Jesus Christ at the center matters. This is why your local Church should be the center of your life as well, so long as your local Church is deeply busy with the things concerning Jesus. The same Resurrected Jesus whom they didn’t recognize until He broke the bread in Luke 24.
We long to be busy with eternal things. We long to have meaning. Meaning too, as with peace, can be one elusive fish, to be sure.
The notion of Christ centered vocation means that even the most menial tasks takes on cosmic meaning and value if it is done for the glory of God. You wake up day after day, put your clothes on, drink your coffee, and work. For what? The Bible views work as a good thing. The Bible views providing for one’s family as a good thing. Yet if you live only for replenishing your bank account you will soon find yourself poor in spirit. The graveyard, and the obituary page are always reminding us that we are painfully replacable. Yes, you are all unique snowflakes; snowflakes melt. Christ at the center saves you from despair.
The Preacher goes on…
 What is crooked cannot be made straight,
and what is lacking cannot be counted.
 I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.”  And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind.
 For in much wisdom is much vexation,
and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.
(Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 ESV)
There are a couple notions here in Solomon’s words. To be certain the old axiom “Ignorance is bliss” may come into play here.
But then again the actor John Wayne is credited with saying, although it seems that he didn’t actually say it, “Life is hard. It’s even harder when you’re stupid.”, may also come into play.
Are we as Christians to be anti-intellectual? Anti book?
May it never be!
But as Saint Paul argues in 1st Corinthians, knowledge, wisdom, giftedness without love are all useless to the Kingdom of God.
Sitting around in Jerusalem thinking you have more wisdom than any King who reigned over Jerusalem before or since may not be coupling wisdom to the love of Christ…. Even if it happens to be true.
But there is a deeper point here. You may be the most intelligent person of the age, but you will never surpass God’s wisdom, so fall to your knees and kiss the son, lest He be angry (Psalm 2).
Or, you might think of St. Paul’s description of the intellectual creeps of the last days:
having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.
(2 Timothy 3:5-7 ESV)
Or you might think of St. Luke’s description of the men of Athens in Acts 17:21
Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.
Solomon talks about delving into the madness. It is true that one can live so deeply in books that they become untethered to reality. Sometimes this is good.
Sometimes this is bad.
Sometimes the accusation is made just to shut you up.
To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”
And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”
(Acts 26:22-29 ESV)
Well, who was out of whose mind?
Whether you get dubbed a mad scientist like Dr. Frankenstein, or Jekyll & Hyde, or just mad like the Apostle Paul, we know that knowledge is made perfect, and worthwhile only in Christ.