Part 3: Ignorance is… Bliss?

By September 28, 2013 Meaningless No Comments

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The bottom line for this morning’s message is simply this: The pursuit of education is not the answer to life’s dilemmas. While some seek wisdom to bring them satisfaction, the teacher shows us that true satisfaction comes from knowing, seeing, tasting, and fearing the Lord.  Pastor David Boone of New Covenant Fellowship does an excellent job of showing that knowledge without fear of the Lord only brings sorrow.

Part 3: Ignorance is… Bliss from New Covenant Fellowship on Vimeo.

 

part 3 – ignorance is…bliss?

This morning we continue in our series Meaningless? A study in the book of Ecclesiastes.

So open your bibles with me to Ecc 1.

Last week we ventured through the first 11 verses, the Teacher’s introduction in which he declared that everything is hebel, meaningless, vanity of vanities.  Life under the sun for human beings is a maddening monotony, an endless cycle of toil and labor in which nothing is ever really complete; nobody ever truly arrives.  And our take home for last week was simply this: since this is life in which work is a huge component and it is never complete, rather than looking forward to the finish line so that we can enjoy life, let’s enjoy the task of work that God has given us; enjoy the journey instead of continually asking “are we there yet” because the answer is still no.

This morning, we will continue in the text and finish chapter 1 beginning in verse 12.

Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 12 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! 14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

15 What is crooked cannot be straightened;
what is lacking cannot be counted.

16 I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.”17 Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.

18 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
the more knowledge, the more grief.

 

Let’s examine the text more closely and see if we can draw out some meaning from the text, gain some wisdom and insight, and make application to enrich our lives.

12 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens.

The teacher sets his heart, his whole being to explore by wisdom all that is done “under the heavens.”  This phrase conveys the same idea as the phrase “under the sun,” which he used in 1:3 & 1:9. I didn’t think to clarify this last week, but “under the sun” doesn’t mean literally outside from 7am to 7pm, but on earth, under the heavens, what people do in life.

This pursuit of understanding is not simply a hobby horse that the teacher would ride to the point of boredom and then hop off, but was a diligent pursuit; he was determined to get to the bottom of this business. He was determined to bring wisdom to the table and use it to ascertain the meaning of life.

The rest of v13 reads: What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind!

He acknowledges upfront that this is a grievous task.  He also indicates that this task that he takes up is not exclusive to him.  He isn’t the only one who has ever wondered about the meaning of life; he isn’t the only one who has ever sought to understand.  Rather, he indicates that this quest to know the answers resides in all of mankind to one degree or another.  This desire to find purpose and meaning lies within all of us and this quest is no cakewalk, but it is a burdensome task.

Why is it a burden?  One reason is because it seems as if the answers never come.  No matter how diligent the investigation, it doesn’t produce results.  No matter how much we learn, there is always more to learn.

14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Here is the observation, plain and simple.  He has observed life and man’s work under the sun.  It still appears like a vapor.  And then he introduces a phrase that is repeated NINE times in the book of Ecclesiastes, “a chasing after the wind.”  This phrase wasn’t in our text last week, but I snuck it in anyway.  Along with the concept of hebel, meaningless, vanity, this idea of a “chasing after the wind” is another huge theme throughout the book.

Consider the futility of chasing after the wind.  Go home today and chase down the wind.  And once you catch it, once you have grasped the wind, once you have it in your possession, once you track it down and you have it, let me know.  I won’t be hearing from you because you will never catch the wind.  It is an impossible task.  The wind is elusive.  Chasing the wind is fruitless, vanity; it is a pointless endeavor.

Why is this task of assessing life, determining the meaning of life – why is it hebel?  Why is his preliminary conclusion so dreary, so pessimistic?  In verse 15 he gives an answer:

15 What is crooked cannot be straightened;
what is lacking cannot be counted.

Assessing life even by using wisdom does not really produce the desired results because what is crooked (or twisted) cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted.

Paperclip .  There is a paperclip attached to the paper on your chair.  Do me a favor and turn that paper clip into a perfectly straight line.  I’m talking perfect.  Can’t do it, can you?  No matter how hard you try, there are still some bends; there is still some crookedness.

I believe that what the Teacher is saying is that the brokenness in this world cannot be fixed.  As you learn of the imperfections in life under the sun, there is a tendency to want to fix them, to correct them.  But no matter how hard we work at it, there will still be imperfections.  What is crooked cannot be straightened.  And what is lacking cannot be counted.

There is a God-given desire within man to discover the meaning of life, but the same God who put the desire there didn’t give us all of the tools necessary to discover the answers.  There is a fundamental lack of data for the project; I can’t get to the bottom line because I don’t have enough information.

It’s like doing a puzzle.  You get the box, you open it up and you sort all of the pieces.  You want to find all of the edge pieces and put those together first so that you have a framework within which to put the rest of the pieces.  But in this particular puzzle – in the puzzle of life, when you open the box, there aren’t any edge pieces.

There is something within us that doesn’t like crooked things.  We don’t particularly care for imperfections.  We want to see things set straight.  We want to see wrongs put right.  People desire a world that is literally without tears, and pain, and death.  We desire to straighten things out.  Now some of us are worse than others; some of us have OCD – some of us are perfectionists.  And to the degree that we seek perfection, we find frustration.  The more OCD we are the more frustrated we get because the more imperfection we see.  It’s like we see the bends magnified.  Some are like, eh close enough – that’s straight.

But there is an innate desire in us to straighten what is crooked.  But you know what???

You know what the teacher says about this?  God is the one that made it crooked.  If we glance ahead 6 chapters, we see that he says in Ecc 7:13 Consider what God has done:

Who can straighten what he has made crooked?

 

This is God’s doing!!!  And God made it that way so that you and I couldn’t straighten it out.  I wonder if that has to do with a tower of babel type lesson.  He is God and we are not.  This is proof.  If he bends it, it’s bent.  You will never straighten it.  If there are pieces missing in your puzzle it will never be complete.  God’s ways are beyond finding out and He puts limits on man.  But I believe that from the beginning, mankind has always been trying to overstep his bounds.  The pride and arrogance of mankind, the lack of the fear of the LORD and the desire to BE god has led to frustration and pain.

 

16 I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.”

Perhaps here another layer of introduction. Also, perhaps to show that even Solomon in all of his wisdom cannot fully grasp the depth of life under the sun and he is not God.  The wisest man of all cannot straighten it all out; how much less can we?

The teacher says I am wiser than all who came before me and I still conclude that it is vanity.  It is meaningless. Hebel.  Even after I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.

17 Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.

John Gill’s commentary: “that he might the better know wisdom, and learn the difference between the one and the other, since opposites illustrate each other; and that he might shun madness and folly, and the ways thereof, and expose the actions of mad and foolish men: so Plato says, ignorance is a disease, of which there are two kinds, madness and folly.”

18 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
the more knowledge, the more grief.

 

Even if you are wise and have grown in wisdom and use that wisdom to explore the mystery of human life under the sun, it doesn’t mean you will arrive; it doesn’t mean that you will have it all figured out.  We won’t unravel all of life’s mysteries and when we fall short of such discoveries, it can lead to pain, frustration, and sorrow.

You can give this task to the wisest man who ever lived and say go figure it out and even he comes back with the conclusion that at the end of the day, if it is bent, if it is crooked, we can’t straighten it and if pieces of the puzzle are missing they cannot be counted, they are gone.  There is still a sense of meaninglessness.  There is still a vanity.  And this is how God made it.  And if you can’t live with that – if you can’t be okay with the fact that God is in charge and he has laid it all out in such a way that we always come short and that we aren’t god, you will find frustration.

18 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
the more knowledge, the more grief.

One facet of this grief that comes with more knowledge is the fact that the more we learn the more we realize that we have a lot yet to learn.

This observation actually demonstrates Solomon’s wisdom, for the more knowledge we acquire the more we realize just how ignorant we are. As Socrates himself said, “I am the wisest of all Greeks, because I of all men know that I know nothing.” The more we are educated in current events, the more serious the world’s problems appear. The better we understand the vastness of our universe, the more insignificant we become. In other words, increasing knowledge often compounds our sense of futility. T.S. Eliot once remarked, “All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance.”

At the close of his life, Isaac Newton said, “I have been paddling in the shallows of a great ocean of knowledge.” He too felt the frustration of not being able to encompass more.

18 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
the more knowledge, the more grief.

 

Another facet of this grief that comes with more knowledge is that the more you know the sadder you can grow.  With certain wisdom can come torture to the soul.  With more knowledge of certain matters, the more grief.  We have this phrase: Ignorance is bliss.  There is a sense in which the Teacher is setting forth this idea.

In a sense, it is better if we don’t know about some of the evils under the sun.  Remember when we were children and we didn’t know about some of the things that we now know?

Wasn’t it all so blissful and beautiful?  Wasn’t there less grief?

I remember the days as a child before I knew about germs, before I knew about diseases.  There was a certain bliss in that.  But once I knew about germs, I struggled for years as a full blown germaphobe.  The more knowledge, the more grief.

I remember when I was a child and I would eat boloney sandwiches and Vienna sausages.  Then one day I found out what baloney is.  I must have been in 4th or 5th grade before I connected the dots between the food I was eating and the animals from which they came.  I ate chicken off of the bone.  And my grandparents had chickens running around in a coop.  One day it clicked for me and I was like, hey, this is that.  I said to my mother, “Mom…so when we eat chicken, we are eating animals?”  She looked at me and smiled and said yes.  That opened up a whole lesson on the origin of ham, hamburgers, tuna fish.  I was like, “Whoah…I want to unlearn what I have learned.”  I liked it better when I didn’t know that I was eating animals.  The more knowledge, the more grief.

Then, as an adult, I find out that the rabbit hole goes deeper.  You mean to tell me that pretty much everything that I have been eating up to this point is processed to the point that it really isn’t even good for me?  And even the stuff that I have been eating that is good for me like fruits and vegetables is probably covered in pesticides and in order to eat what is good for me it needs to be organic and I have to spend two or three times as much money at the store for it?  The more knowledge, the more grief.

Is this not true when it comes to the news?  Don’t they love giving us bad news?  About bombings and wars, about child molesters, about scandals.  Is not ignorance bliss when it comes to the news?  If we turned off the news and we were unaware of all of these evils done under the sun, would we not spare ourselves much grief?  The more knowledge, the more grief.

The more you know the more aware you are of the pain and sorrow in this fallen world.

If you study history and grow in your knowledge of the past, what do you find?  You learn that here in America, there were Natives – aka Native Americans.  And you learn that whitey came over from Europe and did unspeakable things to the Natives and essentially took their land from them.  You learn that whitey enslaved black people.  I didn’t want to know that stuff.  The more knowledge, the more grief.

And if you study church history, what do you find?  You learn of crusades, holy wars, inquisitions, infighting, burnings at the stake – stuff that makes you say, I didn’t want to know that.  The more knowledge, the more grief.

Even when it comes to studying the Bible, there is a sense in which the more you learn the more you realize you have got a lot to learn, and the more you know the sadder you can grow.  I liked the blissful ignorance I had when I first came to know the Lord Jesus as Savior and I didn’t know about all of the differing views, denominations, divisions, and schisms in the church.  I liked not knowing the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism.  I liked not knowing the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism.  I liked not knowing the difference between fluffy feel good messages and deep theology.  I liked not knowing the difference between Futurism and Preterism.  I liked when I thought that everybody in the church always got along because they knew and loved Jesus and they loved one another.  But the more I studied and the more time I spent delving into things, I found that my naïve views were challenged and shattered.  There is a sense in which ignorance was bliss. The more knowledge, the more grief.

Not only is it better if we don’t know about some of the evils under the sun, but in fact, it is better if you and I simply don’t know about some neutral facts under the sun; they don’t even have to be evil because if we aren’t careful, we can develop our own evil thoughts and conclusions.

In most cases, is it not better if we simply go to work and do our job to the best of our ability and go home?  Sometimes you find out information about your coworkers, about the administration, about office politics, about wages that you and I would be better off not knowing.  I would rather not know about the interpersonal conflicts that some of my coworkers have with one another, especially if they both come to me to gripe about one another and put me in the middle.  The more knowledge, the more grief.

I had a coworker tell me about how much some of our coworkers were making, what their commission structures were and how it was unfair.  I would rather not know how much a coworker was making.  If he is making 4 times as much as me (which in this particular case – that is the figure), should I not be happy for my coworker?  But naturally, what does that do inside of us?  That is the kind of knowledge that can produce frustration, bitterness, envy.  The more knowledge, the more grief.

If you remain ignorant of all of these things, you continue to operate with a naïve uninformed blissful.  But we are aware.  We do know.  And The more knowledge, the more grief.

Let me be clear…I don’t believe that the Teacher is advocating ignorance here, nor am I!

If we take this portion of the text by itself we might walk away with a negative view of wisdom.  But again, this is only a preliminary conclusion.  He builds upon this.  Just as last week, I shared with you the Teacher’s conclusion about toil, so also, we will peak ahead to see his conclusion about wisdom.

He says in 2:13 that wisdom is better than folly.  While wisdom has its own downfalls, while more knowledge brings more grief, it is better than the alternative.

While you may, in your growth in wisdom, become aware of things that bring grief or sadness, it is better to be wise than to be a fool.  Wisdom is better than folly.  So he is not saying, ignorance is bliss, so don’t learn anything.  He is simply saying, learn, grow in knowledge and wisdom, but don’t think that your wisdom is the ultimate goal in life.  Being wise has its own “negative side” but being wise is the better path to lead to a more fulfilling life.  It is a means to an end, not the end in itself. I believe that what we are to take away from this portion of the text is that wisdom, learning, education is not the end all be all; it is not the end goal and if you live life as if gaining knowledge will satisfy your soul as the meaning of life, you will be disappointed.

One writer puts it this way:

With knowledge comes both good and ill,
Some blessing and some harm;
But those who learn to fear the Lord
Can live without alarm

The bottom line for this morning’s message is simply this: The pursuit of education is not the answer to life’s dilemmas.  To attain wisdom and knowledge, to learn more and more and educate ourselves is good and beneficial, but it will not bring ultimate satisfaction to our souls, it is not the ultimate meaning in life, it doesn’t bring us to discover the ultimate meaning of life, it is not the end in itself, but is simply a means to an end.  That end, that goal, that meaning is found in knowing, fearing, and loving the Lord.

Proverbs 9:10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

True wisdom begins with the fear of YHWH, the God of the Bible, the God of Israel, the one true creator God.  From there, we can grow in increase in knowledge, we can learn, but that is only icing on the cake.  In reality, much of our learning, much of our increase in knowledge only leads to more grief and in the end, if our learning does not contribute to a better relationship with God and knowing Him deeper, it is meaningless, it is vanity, it is chasing after the wind.