Does More Knowledge Cause More Sorrow?
I was lamenting over the state of affairs in Australia over the past week, when I was lead to read a strange verse in the Bible. It spoke to my heart right at that moment. The burden I felt was expressed on the pages of the Ecclesiastes.
Ecclesiastes 1:16 -18
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.
The preacher, who authored the book of Ecclesiastes, which many scholars attribute to Solomon because of the reference to identifying himself as King David’s son in addition to a brief mention of his own role as King of Jerusalem, shares his frustration of seeking and attaining wisdom, only later to realise that his eyes have been opened to the vanity and brokenness of this world. Even though some scholars have the view that this book shares an ocean of secular worldview philosophy with waves of pessimism washed throughout, others see that the book does conclude with an orthodox statement of faith, but not before chapter after chapter of anguish and doubt, weaved together with pearls of wisdom and truth in addition to prophetic verses pointing to Messiah.
But what if this book, filled with lamentation, isn’t at all secular? After all, we consider this book to be inspired Scripture. What if this writing represents a part in each of us as we travel along the narrow road to the Promised Land? What if we, the believer living in the end time, can relate with this text to some degree?
The book of Daniel forewarns that knowledge will increase in the last days. With this increase of knowledge however, we also know that the Bible records an increase of lawlessness as well.
In Romans, we read that men chose not to retain their knowledge of God, but rather, they chose to suppress the truth.
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient,’ and in verse 30, we read ‘inventors of evil things’.
Right from the Garden of Eden when Eve was tempted by the devil and sinned in order to gain the knowledge of good and evil, knowledge, as Adam and Eve found out, comes with a burden. Knowledge carries the burden of knowing right from wrong, and by this knowledge, we see just how far we fall short. We feel exposed. We want to run and hide our nakedness, our shame. We have a choice to do good or invent new ways of doing evil. Each man has a free will on how he will use this knowledge. Man then proves that with this free will, he chooses to rebel and sin against a holy God.
In the last days, the Bible rightly predicts that the time will be just like it was in the days of Noah (Luke 17:26). So this being the case, what was man like in the days of Noah?
The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
Man chose to use the knowledge he had acquired to meditate upon evil continually. Even after God had started over again by causing a flood, man tried to exalt himself above God by building a tower (the Tower of Babel) with its top in the Heavens. What does God do? He separates them, scattering these wicked children around the world and confuses them by changing their language. So when the book of Daniel says, ‘But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase” Daniel 12:4, this is already being fulfilled today, with the people gathering together (travelling to and fro) and speaking one common language (knowledge will increase). We are in the information age where the whole world has become much smaller and with the help of the internet, you don’t even need to leave your home anymore. You can work, shop, bank, chat and do almost anything from your own bedroom. Knowledge is at our fingertips. As great as this knowledge can be in the right hands, it is also being used to form a one-world system. Babylon (Babel), can once again, attempt to rise above the Heavens by exalting itself above even the Most High God. With an increase in knowledge and lawlessness, the children of disobedience use this knowledge of evil to continually plan and execute evil, but call it good (Isaiah 5:20).
So what’s the whole point in all this?
As wisdom and knowledge increases in His saints, they begin to realise the truth, their eyes are open to seeing the world and the evil that dwells within it. It’s no wonder that God requires His two witnesses from Revelation to dress in sackcloth. Sackcloth and ashes were used in the Old Testament as a symbol of mourning, debasement and repentance. Someone wanting to show his repentant heart would often wear sackcloth and sit in ashes, placing ashes on top of his head. The ashes signified desolation and ruin. Sudden destruction is promised to befall the people just before Jesus returns.
Could it be that this will also symbolise the heart of every true believer at this time, a time where God calls His saints to be patient? That in the end time, having greater knowledge and the wisdom of Christ, that we would truly experience what it is like to have godly sorrow for the state of this world. That we would weep and mourn at the lack of care and utter darkness found in the hearts of men.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, at first glance it appears that this preacher despises wisdom and knowledge, something we realise as Christians to be one of the greatest gifts bestowed upon the believer – the wisdom of Christ. The book of James even goes as far as to encourage the believer to ask for wisdom if we are lacking. But with wisdom and knowledge also comes the realisation that God is holy, and men are not. Men fall short. You might say, ‘but that’s why Jesus died on the cross, for forgiveness of sins’, and I would say ‘Amen’. However, the road is narrow and rough, and only few will ever really make it. The disappointment of the preacher today is coming into the knowledge, the revelation of this very reality. The heartache of the preacher is to know of a holy God, where it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of a living God -- a God who will seek vengeance for those who reject His Son, trampling Him underfoot.
With knowledge comes a burden of accountability. One such example is found in Hebrews.
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the KNOWLEDGE of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.
So when the preacher says, ‘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,’ he conveys the weighty anguish of a man who knows good and evil, wisdom and folly.
As a preacher in 2014, my heart aches. My heart is burdened, for I have come to know good and evil, wisdom and folly. I have entertained both, but today I love good and despise evil. My anguish is that I want to please God, knowing that I still do that which is evil at times. For me, this is difficult, but I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
My anguish however, is not only for me. It is for those who do not know the forgiveness of God. Those who persist in doing evil without repentance. Those who will face the wrath of a holy God unless they do.
The world is full of such—our churches also house such.
Yes, I am convinced that this writer had wisdom and knowledge to the degree and level of pure anguish. Anguish over lost opportunities and wasted moments, anguish over poor decisions and countless road signs screaming, ‘wrong way, turn back!’ I am convinced that this preacher made many mistakes and suffered much from his own choices, but he turned back to the Creator of his youth as he admonished others to do.
Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them.
After writing the book, expressing much sorrow and words of wisdom to those who have ears to hear, the writer ends with this;
‘The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.’
Much wisdom and knowledge comes with much accountability. To much is given, much is expected. The verse I’ll finish with is one such sobering verse.
‘But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more’.
I am convinced that as we grow in maturity in Christ, rather than believing that we’ve somehow outgrown our need for the cross, we should see our need for the cross all the more. And with this knowledge of Calvary, our lack of worthiness for such a gift that God would bestow on us, the sacrifice of His only Son, should we not always remain at His feet with a contrite heart?
Lastly, God revealed in the book of Hosea that His people perish through lack of knowledge, however, the promise we have today is that those who seek to know Christ will have everlasting life.
By Judah Ayling