“Philosophy” – Ecclesiastes 1:12-18

September 22nd, 2013

Ecclesiastes 1:12-18

“Philosophy”

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Bible Memory Verse for the Week:  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. —  Proverbs 9:10

 

Background Information:

  • The book, he tells us, is the fruit of a deliberate effort to discover the meaning and purpose of life as he has described it in verses 1 through 11.  In addition to the power and the resources at his disposal, Solomon was the possessor of unbounded wisdom as a gift from God.  This unique combination of elements permitted and enabled him to conduct his search to the utmost extent.  We have, then, the most mature and complete effort to understand life under the sun that was ever made.  It was a sincere investigation that was conducted with earnestness, diligence and thoroughness.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 10-11)
  • (v. 13) No one but Solomon could have pursued and attained wisdom to the degree described here.  (E. Ray Clendenen, The New American Commentary: Vol. 14, 289)
  • Why can’t we just pray for wisdom, like Solomon did, and wait for God to bestow it, if it pleases Him to do so (cf. 2 Chr 1:10-12)?  Because, while Solomon prayed to God for wisdom, and God promised to grant it, Solomon still had to apply himself diligently to acquiring it.  And the way to wisdom follows a path of study and learning where there are no shortcuts.  Learning and discipleship may be an “unhappy business,” but they’re what God has called us to as followers of His Son.  (T.M. Moore, “An ‘Unhappy Business’” Christian Worldview Journal, 8-1-11)
  • (v. 17) The word madness refers to that which “shines.”  The idea is that of something that shines with a false gleam.  It is a fake or sham.  Our commonly quoted expression, “All that glitters is not gold,” is close.  By the choice of this term (used also in 2:2, 12; 7:7, 25; 9:3; 10:13) Solomon has condemned the godless life as empty and hollow.  It may look good externally, but when carefully examined by experience (as he did) one can find nothing solid or substantial.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 13)
  • (v. 17) Qoheleth was using “madness and folly” the way they are usually used in the OT–to refer to the mad foolishness of living in disobedience to God.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 42)

 

The question to be answered is . . . What is the teacher trying to tell us this week in Ecclesiastes?

 

Answer:  Wisdom, knowledge and learning (in and of itself) is meaningless, empty, futile.  Knowledge from under the sun gives grief; knowledge from under the Son in the fear of the Lord gives life.

 

The Word for the Day is . . . Knowledge

 

What is the teacher trying to tell us this week in Ecclesiastes?:

I.  Knowledge under the sun (divorced from God) brings grief and is futile.  (Eccl 1:12-14, 18; see also: Rom 1:18-25)  

 

As H. C. Leupold puts it, gaining wisdom “leads a man to find out many disturbing things that may militate strongly against his peace of mind.”  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 43)

 

With life as crooked and as lacking as it is, wisdom only calls attention to the sour notes; it cannot bring the singing into tune.  If the choir cannot carry their parts, if the rhythm and the pitch are faulty, if the words are pronounced sloppily, it is better for the people listening not to be trained musicians.  If they are, they will agree with the Preacher’s second counter-proverb . . . The wiser they are in things musical, the more a bad performance will pain them.  The more they learn about life’s tragedies, the greater will be their anguish.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 65)

Not the lack of wisdom, but the presence of wisdom was what bothered Koheleth.  He found what he had sought, and it proved futile.  Far from being the solid rock on which a sound life could be built, wisdom was as insubstantial as a vapor, as undependable as a breeze.  Reach to clutch it, and the movement of your hand blows it away.  Think you have it, and it seeps between your fingers.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 62)

 

. . . wisdom cannot change reality.  That is the meaning of the proverb which reinforces the conclusion of verse 14.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 62)

 

The men who know the most are the most gloomy.”   —Albert Einstein

 

At the close of his life, Isaac Newton said, “I have but been paddling in the shallows of a great ocean of knowledge.”  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 21)

 

In 1920, in his book Outline of History, H.G. Wells praised belief in human progress.  In 1933, in The Shape of Things to Come, appalled by the selfishness and violence of European nations, Wells believed the only hope was for intellectuals to seize control and run a compulsory educational program stressing peace and justice and equity.  In 1945, in A Mind at the End of Its Tether, he wrote, “Homo sapiens, as he has been pleased to call himself, is…played out.”  (Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods, xx-xxi)

The only wisdom Solomon learned from this experiment was that “in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.”  He is not the first to find this bitter water in the well of wisdom, nor the last.  Think of all the people you know.  Is it not true that the ones who laugh the loudest and the most are usually the shallowest and the most foolish?  And that the wisest are usually the gravest?  Perhaps the wise are grave because they remember the grave.  (Peter Kreeft, Three Philosophies of Life, 39)

 

T. S. Eliot once dryly remarked, “All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance.”  In other words, the more we learn, the smaller we feel.  (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 23)

 

Thomas a Kempis believed that an accurate self-knowledge always leads to humility.  “Whoso knoweth himself well, is lowly in his own sight and delighteth not in the praises of men.”  It follows that if we aren’t lowly in our own sight and are dependent on the praise of others, then we don’t know ourselves very well.  (Gary L. Thomas, Seeking the Face of God, 124)

 

By exposing life’s sorry sides, they may actually increase our pain.  Both the process of acquiring wisdom–the combination of midnight oil, grueling sweat, and smarting scars–and the results of wisdom bring “grief” (or “vexation” as ka’as may be rendered; see 2:23; 7:3, 9; 11:10).  “Ignorance is bliss” is not an altogether facetious line of wisdom.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 65)

 

The more we know of ourselves the less satisfied shall we be of our own hearts; and the more we know of mankind the less willing shall we be to trust them; and the less shall we admire.  (Adam Clarke, Holy Bible Commentary and Critical Notes, Vol II, 482)

 

Much wisdom causeth headache.  — German proverb

 

The wise man gains an insight into the thousand-fold woes of the natural world, and of the world of human beings, and this reflects itself in him without his being able to change it; hence the more numerous the observed forms of evil, suffering, and discord, so much greater the sadness which the inutility of knowledge occasions.  (C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the OT: Vol. VI, 232)

 

The Teacher gave himself wholly to the task of acquiring wisdom and knowledge, but he found it to be a miserable work with which to be busied (cf. 1 Kgs 4:29-34).  A universal theme in wisdom and philosophic writings is that the life of wisdom is the highest of all callings.  In Plato the task of the philosopher is the purest of all.  Here, however, it is a grievous task (we could translate the phrase as a “lousy job”).  Why is the Teacher’s attitude so negative, and why does he say this job has been imposed on him by God?  First, he is challenging the widely held notion that pursuit of knowledge fulfills life and gives a person permanent significance.  Second, he finds it a hopeless task; the answers he seeks he cannot find.  Third, the Teacher sees all of life as under the rule of a sovereign God.  The intellectuals and their work are as much under his authority as anyone else (cf. 1 Cor 3:19).  (E. Ray Clendenen, The New American Commentary: Vol. 14, 289)

 

The implication of the phrase “a chasing after the wind” may be described as follows:  You never can catch it; but if you do catch it, you do not have anything anyway.  (E. Ray Clendenen, The New American Commentary: Vol. 14, 289)

 

The point is probably that, as the Preacher thought about wisdom and knowledge, he kept one eye on the alternatives.  Thus the next section on pleasure-seeking is anticipated.  The attempt to solve the problem of life by wisdom in fact only enlarged the problem (v. 18).  So long as wisdom is restricted to the realm ‘under the sun’, it sees the throbbing tumult of creation, life scurrying round its ever-repetitive circuits, and nothing more.  ‘The more you understand, the more you ache’ (Moffatt).  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 64)

 

Socrates (460-399 B.C.) stands as one of history’s greatest thinkers.  His search for wisdom led to a conclusion not unlike Solomon’s: “I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.”  Human wisdom cannot find the meaning of life.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 19)

 

We see the dark cloud approaching in verse 13, when Solomon mentions the “unhappy business” that is the search for wisdom.  “Sadder but wiser” is a common coupling.  Even Socrates knew that when he said, “Is not the pursuit of wisdom a practice of death?”  “Philosophizing is a rehearsal [meletē] for dying.”

A second dark cloud comes when we hear the words “I have seen everything that is done under the sun.”  Only God can endure that sight; only eternity can see everything without being bored.  Worse than even sorrow is boredom.  Sorrow is not necessarily “vain”; boredom is.  (Peter Kreeft, Three Philosophies of Life, 38-39)

 

1:16-18 The more you understand, the more pain and difficulty you experience.  For example, the more you know, the more imperfection you see around you; and the more you observe, the more evil becomes evident.  As you set out with Solomon to find the meaning of life, you must be ready to feel more, think more, question more, hurt more, and do more.  Are you ready to pay the price for wisdom?  (Tyndale House Publishers, Life Application Study Bible, 1136)

 

Knowledge in the hands of an unredeemed mind serves mostly to create more frustration, bondage and evil.  — Pastor Keith

 

II.  Knowledge (in and of itself) cannot fix the effects of the Fall nor unravel the mysteries of life.  (Eccl 1:15; see also: Jer 17:9; Rom 3:10-23)

 

Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.  —  G.K. Chesterton.

 

With cable, satellites, and the Internet, more information than ever is coursing through people’s brains, a nonstop distraction.  This is all to the good, the relativists say, because knowledge in and of itself is useful, whatever the source.  That is why relativists (read: liberals) almost invariably offer “education” in place of “morality” as the solution to the latest disaster created by earlier errors.  The New Age liberal thinks that lack of information is the problem, not lack of morality.  It never seems to dawn on them that pagan Nazi Germany was one of the most well-educated nations in the world in the 1930s.  (Robert Knight; The Age of Consent, 114)

 

When we look at life ‘under the sun,’ excluding God, something happens to our understanding and our learning.  We try to explain the world without reference to the essential explanatory factor: God’s creating activity and his sustaining presence.  The result?  An endless pursuit of learning which can never bring a knowledge that satisfies.  (Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Pundit’s Folly, 76)

 

Solomon plunged enthusiastically into the investigation.  He “searched” (from a Hebrew word meaning “to seek the roots of a matter”) and “explored” (the Hebrew literally meaning “to investigate a subject on all sides”) all things done under heaven.  In all candor, he records that he found the task a “sore travail” (ill business or sorry task) that God had given to “the sons of the man” (Hebrew has “Adam” or “man,” not “men”).  Was Solomon thereby alluding to Adam and the effects of the Fall?  Yes, he was.  He did not choose to say “sons of men.”  The sons of Adam labor and toil without finding any satisfaction or answer to the question, What is the profit?  Yet all the time it is God who continues to prompt man’s heart to discover the truth.  Man is trapped by the difficulty of the problem and his own divinely implanted hunger to know.  (Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Everyman’s Bible Commentary: Ecclesiastes, 53-54)

 

People don’t embrace relativism because it is philosophically satisfying.  They embrace it because it is physically and emotionally gratifying.  It provides the cover they need at key moments in their lives to do what they want without intrusion from absolutes.  (John Piper, Think, 102)

 

The real trouble with man in sin is that he always wants to understand.  The ultimate sin of man is pride of intellect.  That is why it is always true to say that “not many wise men after the flesh, not many might, not many noble are called.”  The wise man after the flesh wants to understand.  He pits his brain against God’s wisdom, and he says, “I don’t see.”  Of course he doesn’t.  And Christ says to him, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3).  If you think that with your mind, which is so small when you compare it with the mind of God, and which is not only small but also sinful, and perverted, and polluted, and twisted–if you think that with the mind you have you can comprehend the working of God’s eternal mind and wisdom, obviously you do not know God, you are outside the life of God, and you are lost.  The first thing that must happen to you before you can ever become a Christian is that you must surrender that little mind of yours, and begin to say, “Of course I cannot understand it; my whole nature is against it.  I can see that there is only one thing to do; I submit myself to the revelation that God has been pleased to give.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans, Exposition of Chapter 5, 251)

 

There is so much people cannot understand.  Not only are people aiming at unsubstantial ideals, which blow away like the wind (v. 14), but their efforts to straighten things out and supply what seems to be lacking are continually disappointed (v. 15).  Today we have straightened out many of the twists of the past and added many comforts to life; but as many of us have seen in our lifetime, in one moment a whole generation or some dominant group of rulers can revive the horrors of the past and destroy what is truly good and meaningful in life.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, 1155)

 

It seems likely, particularly in view of the suggestion in 1:1-11 that the fundamental human problem resides in a lack of harmony between common human aspirations and the very nature of reality itself, that the futility of 1:15 is to be understood precisely in terms of a human refusal to accept things as they are.  There is a human insistence that the impossible can in fact be achieved–that what God has made “crooked” or “twisted” can indeed be made straight by human, mortal effort.  It is all futile, for God is God, and the world is the way it is.  Refusing to accept reality can only result in unhappiness and weariness (since wind cannot be caught, however hard the chase).  (Iain Provan, The NIV Application Commentary: Ecclesiastes, 70)

 

Man does not establish authority; he acknowledges it.  This is the proper procedure, though seldom observed.  Man wants to acknowledge only that authority which he himself establishes or at the least gives consent to.  All other authority is offensive to his sense of autonomy and ultimacy.  As a result, the claims of Scripture are particularly offensive to the natural man, because so much is involved in the admission of their truth.

To recognize the claims of Scripture is to accept creaturehood and the fact of the fall.  The fall necessitates an infallible Saviour and an infallible Scripture as Van Til has shown.  Moreover, the concept of the infallible Word involves and requires the idea of God’s complete control over history.  This means that God is self-contained and ultimate, controlling all reality, with all reality revelational of Him, knowing all things exhaustively because He controls completely.  To accept fully the concept of the infallible Word is to claim all facts for God and to insist that reality can only be interpreted in terms of Him and His Word.  This runs counter to the natural man’s claim to be the point of reference and the source of ultimate interpretation of factuality.  But it is this sin of man which makes Scripture necessary.  Scripture speaks to man with authority, and with sufficiency, that is, as a completed Word.  It speaks with perspicuity, clearly and simply telling man who he is, what the nature of his sin is, what his remedy is and where it is to be found.  The attributes of Scripture are thus necessity, authority, perspicuity and sufficiency.  (Rousas J. Rushdoony; By What Standard?, 145)

 

The fall of man involved the entirety of man; all aspects of his personality were corrupted by sin.  As a result, reason is not the judge of truth; only God can act as such a judge.  Moreover, sin has so affected mankind that even rational abilities are not neutral.  Christians seek to use their reason in dependence on God.  Non-Christians seek to be independent in their thinking; there is no neutral ground on which to deal with unbelief.  Human reason can be as much a hindrance as a help to faith in Christ.  As St. Augustine once said, “Believe that you may understand.”  To rest our faith on independent reason is to rebel against God.  Reason must rest on our faith commitment to Christ and our faith must rest on God alone.  (Richard L. Pratt, Jr.; Every Thought Captive A Study manual for the Defense of Christian Truth, 74)

 

One of the great frustrations of life is that no matter how hard you try, there are some things you cannot set straight.  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 20)

 

Realizing how little man knows, how feeble and weak he is (even as a “powerful” king), and how vain his best works are is humbling.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 11)

 

Man by his fall alienated himself from the only source of life and rest.  Fallen man of himself cannot recover one atom of his former perfection.  God hath given him this travail as the chastening for his apostasy.  All is dark with him, till he shall see that all is vanity, and himself the chiefest of all vanities.  This is the Lord’s training–the discipline of his school–the ordinary method of his Sovereign grace.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 19)

 

Havel’s belief in knowing the truth and living it goes to the very heart of what it means to live a good life.  It raises the most urgent and controversial question in today’s culture:  Can we know the truth?  Strident voices in our culture answer that question with a resounding no.

The principal reason for this is found in an extraordinary cultural revolution in the West.  In the period after World War II, as we noted earlier, existential philosophers, mostly Frenchmen, took seriously Nietzsche’s formulation that God was dead and that life has no transcendent purpose.  The human challenge was therefore to overcome life’s inherent lack of meaning through personal experience.  This gave birth to the generation of the sixties, to Woodstock, to seeking meaning through protest, free love, and drugs.  Existentialism was soon accompanied by deconstructionism in literary and cultural studies.  This held that societies live in “the prison house of language,” meaning that we can never escape our culture’s prejudices; every claim about the way the world works can only be the expression of biased groupthink.  It doesn’t take a philosopher to see that these two streams of thought undermine any authority structure.  (Charles Colson, The Good Life, 205)

 

Much of what is wrong with life is not wisdom’s fault, it is just the way things are.  Full of injustice, stamped by suffering, plagued by weakness, terrorized by crime, life has so much wrong about it that wisdom stands by powerless to do more than observe.  Think of the massive problems that confront our huge cities: treasuries on the edge of bankruptcy, numbers of the homeless growing to alarming levels, education perplexed about its directions, crime rates soaring to vulture heights.  Wisdom is much better able to analyze the trends than it is to prescribe the solutions.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 62)

 

Wisdom may finger the problem but it cannot straighten out what is crooked nor count what is simply not there.  Wisdom cannot change reality.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 62-63)

 

Mankind struggles under the curse of sin.  All this is part of the “heavy burden” to which God has subjected fallen creation.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 19)

 

“What is twisted cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.”  He’s saying something like, “That’s the way it is.  You can’t change it.”  You can’t count what isn’t even there!  Likewise it is sheer folly for fallen man to think he can find a way to escape his condition.  The resources and wisdom for such an escape lie beyond his grasp.  As a matter of fact, he cannot even conceive of what they might be!  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 19)

 

Some problems cannot be solved, and some information we can never find.  The intellectual more than anyone else should be aware of the futility of the human position.  No matter how he or she searches, the intellectual cannot answer some fundamental questions of life.  The implication behind this is that God’s ways are inscrutable.  (E. Ray Clendenen, The New American Commentary: Vol. 14, 290)

 

All the philosophy and politics in the world will not restore the corrupt nature of man to its primitive rectitude: we find the insufficiency of them both in others and in ourselves.  Learning will not alter men’s natural tempers, nor cure them of their sinful distempers; nor will it change the constitution of things in this world: a vale of tears it is and so it will be when all is done.  (2) To make up the many deficiencies in the comfort of human life: That which is wanting there cannot be numbered, or counted out to us from the treasures of human learning, but what is wanting will still be so.  All our enjoyments here, when we have done our utmost to bring them to perfection, are still lame and defective, and it cannot be helped; as they are, so they are likely to be.  That which is wanting in our knowledge is so much that it cannot be numbered.  The more we know the more we see of our own ignorance.  (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. III, 386)

 

The true problem lies in the hearts and thoughts of man…What terrifies us is not the explosive force of the atomic bomb, but the power of the wickedness of the human heart. — Albert Einstein

 

As Paul explains clearly in 1 Cor 13:2, knowledge minus soul amounts to a great deal of nothing.  And as he says in verse 13, spiritual character trumps all other gifts every time.  And as America learned in the first few years of the 21st century, knowledge and power in corporate offices can simply lead to more creative ways to rebel against goodness and reason.  (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 25)

 

But why should learning be such an unhappy business?  Primarily because we have to work hard at it if we’re going to get anything out of it.  In a fallen world we no longer enjoy the ability, like Adam naming the animals, to learn, as it were, by mere observation and intuition.  We have to search and investigate, ask questions and read, try various approaches and correct our mistakes, take good notes and change our behavior, and a whole host of other activities.  True learning requires above all a commitment of the heart, so that we desire to be wise and resolve to pursue a course of learning as much as possible so that we can demonstrate the wisdom of God in every area of our lives.  (T.M. Moore, “An ‘Unhappy Business’” Christian Worldview Journal, 8-1-11)

 

There are some things that education, even the best education, is powerless to do: it cannot untangle the twists in the human heart; it cannot make up for what is lacking in the soul.  (Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Pundit’s Folly, 9)

 

The Pundit knew this was a hopeless quest.  Something was missing; indeed the one thing essential was missing.

God was missing.  The Pundit discovered that the door to fulfillment would not open so long as he had lost the key.  (Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Pundit’s Folly, 23)

 

Science and technology are fraught with rich potential to improve our lives and to better the human condition.  But the potential for science to do good is shadowed by its potential to do evil, bring harm, or, at the very least, raise an eyebrow.  We need only think, for example, of such matters as eugenics, forced sterilizations, “final solutions,” Chernobyl, abortion, human cloning, and the transhumanism project in order to see the truth of this.   (T. M. Moore, “The Potential of Science” The Christian Worldview Journal, 8-15-11)

 

Newspapers recently carried the story of a young high school girl from Fremont, California who did the impossible.  Seventeen-year-old Karen Cheng scored perfect marks (1600) on the national SAT test, and perfect marks (8000) on the rigorous University of California acceptance index.  No one before had ever achieved such a remarkable academic feat.  This phenomenal girl, always a straight-A student in high school, thinks of herself as a typical teenager.  Her teachers, recognizing her one-of-a-kind abilities, call her “Wonder Woman.”  Clearly, she will have her choice of America’s most prestigious universities.

So, you ask, how in the world does she illustrate America’s need for more mentoring–and especially from flawed, failing mentors like me and thee?  As it happens, one newspaper account of the girl’s genius included a question she had been asked by a reporter.  It was the kind of question every human being should be able to answer.  Certainly, one of the most intelligent teenagers in America ought to be able to offer some kind of response.

The question?  “What is the meaning of life?”

Her response: “I have no idea.  I would like to know myself.”  (Stu Weber, Four Pillars of a Man’s Heart, 207)

 

The sin of presumption is the antithesis of the fear of the Lord.  It is the harbinger of future defeat.   (Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds, 142)

 

III.  Madness and Folly are also just as futile as wisdom and knowledge in attempting to find permanence, meaning and significance under the sun.  (Eccl 1:17; see also: 1 Cor 3:18-20)  

 

“Modern man, with confidence in all of his modern understanding and knowledge, now has both feet firmly planted in midair”.    Paraphrase of Francis Shaffer   (Session 5.1 Wide Angle)

 

After examining the shortcomings of wisdom, the king turned to “madness and folly.”  Maybe we can find meaning in life by abandoning wisdom, thought Solomon.  This is similar to the modern day despair over finding meaning and value in conventional wisdom.  For all the discoveries of science, it hasn’t brought man any closer to knowing what life is all about.  So people turn from reason to un-reason, rushing headlong into the occult, or drugs, or alcohol, or Eastern mysticism.  This, too, is “a chasing after the wind.”  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 20)

Taken together, “wisdom” (see 1:13) and “madness and folly” constitute the whole range of learning about human behavior.  Koheleth’s pursuit of life’s meaning left no viewpoint unexplored.  Not only did he examine the extremes listed in verse 16 but every option in between.  Stating the poles is a graphic way of embracing the whole catalog of possibilities from cover to cover.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 64)

 

Any evaluation of Nietzsche’s thought must inquire into his epistemology.  How does one refute a philosopher who declares absurdity at the outset?  When dealing with apostles of irrationality, I always ask them why they even bother to talk.  I see no great value in my proving the absurdity of a position the proponents of which already grant its absurdity.  The most consistent act of irrational philosophers would be simply to shut up.  If they can say nothing meaningful (since there is nothing meaningful to say), why continue babbling?  They insist, however, on speaking and writing.  In a word, they argue for the “truth” of their position, but their arguments have no grounds for validity or invalidity since they have already abandoned the law of validity.  (R.C. Sproul, The Consequences of Ideas, 169)

 

How can brilliant scholars such as Aquinas and Nietzsche come to such radically opposing worldviews?  If the spectrum of philosophical views ranges between full-orbed theism on one side and nihilism on the other, how can men of genius end up so far apart?

Perhaps the answer lies in this:  If at the earliest stages of intellectual reflection a person denies the existence of God, then the more brilliant he is, the farther his thought will move away from God.  Most secular philosophers end up somewhere between the two poles, living on borrowed capital from either theism of nihilism.  Without God, nihilism, as nonsensical as it is, makes more sense than a hybrid humanism or any other intermediate position.

Although I do not embrace presuppositional apologetics, I do recognize that the existence of God is the supreme proto-supposition for all theoretical thought.  God’s existence is the chief element in constructing any worldview.  To deny this chief premise is to set one’s sails for the island of nihilism.  This is the darkest continent of the darkened mind–the ultimate paradise of the fool.  (R.C. Sproul, The Consequences of Ideas, 170-71)

 

Vanity cannot detect itself, just as folly cannot detect itself.  Only the wise know folly; fools know neither wisdom nor folly.  Just as it takes wisdom to know folly, light to know darkness, it takes profundity to know vanity, meaning to know meaninglessness.  Pascal says, “Anyone who does not see the vanity of life must be very vain indeed.”  (Peter Kreeft, Three Philosophies of Life, 15)

 

CONCLUSION/APPLICATION: What does this message have to do with Christ and me?:

 

 

A.  Knowledge that is in the context of love and the fear of the Lord brings life. (Eccl 1:16-17; see also: Ps 111:10; 119:99-100, 104, 130, 144; Prv 1:4-7, 29; 9:8-10; 18:2; Isa 55:7-8; Mt 18:3; 1 Cor 8:1; 13:2)

 

The wisdom of the Spirit does not offer a supplement to the human mind, but challenges its autonomy at the roots.  Knowledge that knows not God is folly, for the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  We are not computers, nor is wisdom only data-storage and problem-solving.  Fellowship with the living God, and with the Spirit who searches the deep things of God, frees us to seek and possess knowledge.  Such spiritual wisdom combines theory and practice, word and life.  (Edmund P. Clowney, The Church–Contours of Christian Theology, 143)

 

Science is only as beneficial as the hands that employ it.   (T. M. Moore, “The Potential of Science” The Christian Worldview Journal, 8-15-11)

 

The modern scientific endeavor, which had its beginnings in the 16th and 17th centuries, developed out of an intellectual consensus forged over a millennium by Christian theologians and thinkers.  I don’t mean to suggest that no one had ever given much thought to the kinds of questions science pursues prior to the modern Christian era.  Certainly the ancient Greeks, the Chinese, and even certain Islamic scholars were weighing in on such questions long before men like Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton began their work.

But there is in the Christian worldview rich, fertile soil for such thinking–powerful encouragement, as Solomon observed, for studying the world and understanding its processes and potential.  This was not lost on those who pioneered the modern scientific enterprise, and they–as we shall see–often easily moved between their deeply personal faith and their innovative work in various fields of science.

Even a cursory glance at the Bible reveals an invitation–indeed, a mandate–for human beings actively to engage in observing, understanding, and making use of the creation in ways that can further the good and upright plans of the Lord.  Since the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, and since He loves the cosmos He has created and His Word sustains (Ps 24:1; Jn 3:16; Heb 1:3), we should expect that He would want to see in His redeemed people the same kind of interest, delight, and care for the creation which He Himself maintains.  This, it is reasonable to suppose, can be accomplished, at least in part, through the work of science.   (T. M. Moore, “The Potential of Science” The Christian Worldview Journal, 8-15-11)

 

Solomon’s quest for wisdom was not always vanity and wind.  There were many years when, as Solomon increased in wisdom, he became a source of much blessing, both to the people of Israel and the nations all around (cf. 1 Kgs 10).  Solomon’s problems with his learning came as a result of failing to pursue his course in the way God intended.  As a result, Solomon lost sight of God and, frankly, he found another deity to love and serve even more.  (T.M. Moore, “Losing Your Way on the Path to Wisdom” Christian Worldview Journal, 8-2-11)

 

His (Solomon’s) loss of focus on God and his desire for self-aggrandizement left him with a bad taste in his mouth for learning–and for life.  (T.M. Moore, “Losing Your Way on the Path to Wisdom” Christian Worldview Journal, 8-2-11)

 

For all its benefits, education and intellectual attainment can only speak to us about life under the sun.  The rest of the story is found in God’s revealed Word.  When we neglect or reject the revealed truth of Scripture, even our most brilliant scientists and professors are little more than mice scurrying around inside a piano, analyzing all the hammers and strings, willfully ignorant of the musical score sitting on the stand above the keys.  (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 24)

 

Hard indeed is it for the philosopher to “receive the kingdom of God”–in the only way in which it can be received–“as a little child.” (Mk 10:15).  Here will he find the only remedy for his grief and sorrow.  Intelligence in all the branches of natural science gives no help to a right understanding of the Gospel.  It is a science of itself–peculiar to itself, and therefore only to be rightly understood through its own organ–Divine Teaching.  Barren indeed is mere theoretical knowledge.  Correct views without practical influence are only the surface of knowledge–the lifeless mass.  It is not knowledge in itself–but knowledge under Divine Teaching–that works the main end.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 25)

 

. . . the potentiality of a philosophy cannot exceed its presupposition.  What a philosophy assumes to begin with, ultimately determines all that it can be or can know.  Greek philosophy assumed, or had as its “given,” the physical world and its structure as ultimate.  As a result, it could not account for those things which were not included in its “given” or presupposition. . . .  But a philosophy which begins with matter, structure or change as its ultimate and starting point can never result in a delineation of the ways of the self-contained Creator of nature.  Christian thought has consistently gone astray, throughout most of its history, by seeking to answer the world in terms of the world’s own categories.  (Rousas J. Rushdoony; By What Standard?, 2-3)

 

When Descatres began by asking, “How do we know?” and answered by declaring his point of origin to be ‘cogito ergo sum.’  I think, therefore I am, he had already presupposed what he knew.  The orthodox Christian, who begins with the doctrine of the Triune God as taken from the infallible Scriptures, is assumed to be prejudiced and ignorant, in that he has already assumed all that supposedly needs proof.  But the modern man who begins with his own autonomous nature and establishes his reason as the unprejudiced and valid interpreter of God and the world has in fact assumed far more.  If God did indeed create heaven and earth and all things therein, then nothing can have any meaning or interpretation apart from God.  Inasmuch as all things came into being by virtue of His sovereign decree, all things have meaning only in terms of His eternal counsel.  The only true interpretation of any fact, including man, is in terms therefore of God the Creator and providential Controller.  (Rousas J. Rushdoony; By What Standard?, 9)

 

The Christian must maintain that created being has no meaning in itself and all attempts to understand it in terms of itself constitutes a rejection of true meaning.  Neither can man have meaning in himself, because he too is a creature.  Nothing can have meaning in itself or of itself because nothing exists in or of itself.  “All things were made by Him,” and nothing has a valid interpretation apart from God and His creative and redemptive purpose.  Thus every attempt of man to interpret his world of itself, or to attempt to interpret it in terms of his autonomous mind and its perceptions, is virtually a deliberate rejection of God and His interpretation.  When men reject God they at the same time virtually reject the Creator’s and redeemer’s interpretation and purpose for their lives and for all creation.  Thus, they cannot understand either themselves or the world they live in, although they use both, often with profligate proficiency.  (Rousas J. Rushdoony; By What Standard?, 10-11)

 

Reason is not God and possesses no such authority.  Its judgments are based on the tenuous, sinful, and subjective pre-suppositions of a creature and are neither grounded in being or in truth.  Reason can only establish a connection with being and truth insofar as it rests, not on its own mythical authority, but on God and His Word.  (Rousas J. Rushdoony; By What Standard?, 14)

 

The essential issue is between the authority of autonomous man and of the Sovereign God.  To allow God into the universe, provided that we open the door, is to say that the universe is our universe, and that our categories are decisive in human thinking.  We can accept the Scriptures as inerrant and infallible on our terms, as satisfactory to our reason, but we have only established ourselves as god and judge thereby and have given more assent to ourselves than to God.  But, if God be God, then the universe and man are His creation, understandable only in terms of Himself, and no meaning can be established except in terms of God’s given meaning.  To accept miracles or Scripture on any other ground is in effect to deny their essential meaning and to give them a pagan import.

Thus, the consistent Christian position must be this:  no God, no knowledge.  Since the universe is a created universe, no true knowledge of it is possible except in terms of thinking God’s thoughts after Him.  (Rousas J. Rushdoony; By What Standard?, 17)

 

What we have to learn is that God acts in a way that is not often immediately obvious to us; and that what seems to be God’s absence is really God’s hidden presence.  This is where Luther’s concept of the hidden God, or Deus absconditus, comes in.

Additionally, one needs to learn that (as Tennyson wrote) nothing worthwhile can be proved:  not Christianity, not any political theory, and not any ethical philosophy.  That is because such things go beyond the senses.  But, as I say, this is not simply a Christian difficulty.  It is one shared by anything worthy.  (Michael Bauman, Roundtable: conversations with European Theologians, 132)

 

There is an uncannily contemporary ring to what the Pundit is saying.  Imagining himself to be too sophisticated intellectually to believe in God, modern man speaks of “time and chance” and of “Mother Nature” (notice the capital letters!).  God is naturalized, nature is deified.  We rid ourselves of God, but in the process substitute another, poorer deity in His place, becoming indeed the children of a lesser god.  We become just like our long-dead forefathers whose gods were also found in nature.  (Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Pundit’s Folly, 38)

 

According to the NT, there is no escape from the knowledge of God, even if I am an unbeliever.  I may seek to repress it, but I cannot escape it.  There are no ultimate atheists, only theists who argue against what, in the deepest recesses of their being, they know to be true:  God is.  We cannot succeed in our struggle permanently to suppress that knowledge.  We certainly cannot do so consistently.  This is God’s world, and all who live in it must borrow from God’s capital in order to do so.  (Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Pundit’s Folly, 45)

 

Becoming wise begins in the fear of God and devotion to His Word.  But growth in wisdom increases by an ongoing, every day study of the world around us.  If we would be wise like Solomon and Jesus, we must take up the study of the creation, devoting ourselves through reading, study, contemplation, and conversation, to discerning the wisdom of God as revealed in the things He has made.  (T. M. Moore, “Study the Creation To Gain the Wisdom of God” The Christian Worldview Journal, 5-24-12)

 

Man exists in a series of experiences and cannot discover any onward meaning in them.  All he can do is exist and make the best of what comes–or drop out altogether.  Yet most people still believe that life has some meaning if only they could find it.  In his first mention of God (v. 13), the Teacher stated what comes out again later (e.g., 3:11)–viz., that God has given something to man that he has denied to the rest of the animal world:  the constant, though often worrying, urge to make sense of life and to work toward a transcendent ideal.  An animal lives within the circle of its instincts and drives.  Man, in the likeness of God, looks for meanings so that he can control and direct his instinctive desires.  Someone has said that it is better to be Socrates discontented (because he cannot solve his problems) than a contented pig.  It may sound easy to abandon the search for ultimates and to drop to an animal level, but even the dropout often knows the restlessness and the pricks of conscience that belong to him as man.  We are fallen beings who need the life and illumination that come from God.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, 1154)

 

Biblical authority must never depend on human verification for it is the unquestionable Word of God.

The problem with much of the popular tactics used by many defenders of the faith today may be summed up as a problem of authority.  The apologist must see clearly that the nonChristian is in need of forsaking his commitment to independence and should turn in faith to the authority of Christ.  If however, trust in Christ is founded on logical consistency, historical evidence, scientific arguments, etc., then Christ is yet to be received as the ultimate authority.  The various foundations are more authoritative than Christ himself. . . . if beliefs in Christian truth comes only after the claims of Christ are run through the verification machine of independent human judgment, then human judgment is still thought to be the ultimate authority. (Richard Pratt Jr. Every Thought Captive A Study manual for the Defense of Christian Truth, 79-80)

 

If a man who had everything investigated everything visible and found nothing of value, then the one thing he needed must have been invisible.  (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 10)

 

Wisdom, when viewed apart from that wisdom which comes from the fear of God–which he eulogizes in 2:13-14 and other verses–increases grief instead of bringing relief to the question of profit.  This is proud, human wisdom which, says Ginsburg, “Dethrones God and defies man, pretending to give him laws and regulations whereby to make him happy.”  (Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Everyman’s Bible Commentary: Ecclesiastes, 55)

 

The Christian Way — The Christian says, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists.   A baby feels hunger:  well, there is such a thing as food.  A duckling wants to swim:  well, there is such a thing as water.   Men feel sexual desire:  well, there is such a thing as sex.  If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.  If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud.  Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.  If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage.  I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others do the same.  (C. S. Lewis; Mere Christianity, bk 3, ch 10, 120)

 

B.  All your learning, education and knowledge under the sun will only end up becoming empty, futile and meaningless unless you can give it an eternal context which is ONLY available under the Son.  (see: Prv 2:1-13; 3:5-13; Isa 11:2; Hos 14:9; Mt 11:25; 13:11; Lk 9:45; 10:21; 24:45; Jn 1:1-14; 14:6; 1 Cor 1:20-2:14; 2 Cor 4:6; Eph 1:3-10, 17; Col 2:1-5; 3:1-5; Jas 1:5; 3:13-18)

 

For the consistent Christian, then, ethics must be God-centered.  Values and truth do not constitute a standard which God and man must alike meet but rather are an expression of the nature of God, and, therefore, of the nature of Jesus Christ.  Accordingly, it becomes impossible to subscribe to the “ethics of Jesus” school of thinking.  The fallacy of such thought is that it separates the ethical teaching of Jesus from the person of Jesus and takes “for granted the pagan position that truth is truth in itself and that Jesus only looks up to it.  So also they have taken for granted that goodness is goodness in itself and does not proceed from the person of Christ as a standard.”  In all such thinking, God ceases to be God, and man’s conception of goodness takes precedence over God.  True Christian theistic ethics rests therefore on a specific conception of God and a specific conception of the nature of Christ.  (Rousas J. Rushdoony; By What Standard?, 82-83)

 

More wisdom than Solomon knew was found in Jesus the Christ: for the Queen of Sheba “came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here” (Mt 12:42).  Through his wisdom we move beyond futility to a true wisdom, a wisdom from above (Jas 3:17).

Wisdom can change reality–that was part of the startling news that Jesus brought to light.  Wisdom as Jesus revealed it was not the product of deep study, but of strong commitment.  It was not written on a scroll, but emblazoned on a cross.

The cross, with its power of forgiveness; the cross, with its wisdom of love can make the crooked things of life straight and can add to life what it lacks.  What the best of human wisdom could not do, Jesus Christ–the power and wisdom of God–has done (1 Cor 1:18-25).  He has settled our debt to God; he has charted our direction in life; he has sorted out our confused values; he has freed our enslaved spirits.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 66-67)

 

In Jesus Christ, says Paul (who formerly resisted the idea with all his considerable powers), we find all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.  He is the Wise Man, and in him alone is true wisdom to be found.  He is the Poor Man whose impoverishment leads to untold riches for those who trust him.  (Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Pundit’s Folly, 59)

When we look at life ‘under the sun,’ excluding God, something happens to our understanding and our learning.  We try to explain the world without reference to the essential explanatory factor: God’s creating activity and his sustaining presence.  The result?  An endless pursuit of learning which can never bring a knowledge that satisfies.  (Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Pundit’s Folly, 76)

 

Postmodernism and its dogmatic tolerance can lead only to despair, as Sayers wrote and as we witness in the lives of so many today.  Despair in turn leads to slothfulness, and slothfulness to boredom.  In spite of our great technological advances and the highest level of education and material advances any society has ever achieved, we have managed to suck all of the meaning out of life, to destroy any basis for human dignity or human rights, to undermine moral and rational discourse–to leave ourselves adrift in the cosmos.  (Charles Colson, The Good Life, 210)

 

The secularists of Jesus’ day summed up their philosophy like this: “Eat, drink, and be merry.  For tomorrow you die.” Contrast that with Jesus’ words: “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”  Think in terms of eternity.  Think of the long-range implications.  This touches us most directly, not simply in how we handle our bank accounts, but at the level of how we invest our lives.  Life is an investment and the question that modern man has to answer is, “Am I going to invest my life for short-term benefits or for long-term gains?  (R.C. Sproul; Lifeviews, 37)

 

But before we bury Nietzsche, we should praise him.  Nihilism, alone among all the systems that we have looked at, recognizes the folly of trying to construct a system of knowledge outside the all-knowing God. (R. C. Sproul Jr.; Tearing Down Strongholds and Defending the Truth, 107)

 

The famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking was grasping at this truth when he said, “We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star.  But we can understand the universe.”  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 39)

 

It’s been said that man has only two problems:  he doesn’t know who God is, and he doesn’t know who he is in relationship to God.  When a person does not understand God, he cannot comprehend the true meaning of life.  What must happen before an individual can personally know God and comprehend the things of God (Jn 3:1-8)?  (John A. Stewart, Lamplighters Self-Study: Ecclesiastes, 7)

 

Worship point:  When you really know what you need to know your knowing will drive you to worship the One Who allows you to know what you know.

 

Spiritual Challenge:  Think about what eternal value and benefit your knowledge has.  Think about those things you know only to impress others with what you know.  Think about how many times you build yourself up in the eyes of others by what you know rather than using what you know to make life better for others.  Use your knowledge and wisdom to love and build up others . . . not self.

 

We alone of living beings have to cooperate in making ourselves, in gaining for ourselves true existence.

Even certain common idioms show our awareness of this truth.  G.K. Chesterton once observed that you might slap a man on the shoulder who was drinking too heavily and say, “Be a man!”, but it would be pointless to tell a recalcitrant crocodile to “be a crocodile.”  It can’t fail to be a crocodile.  But we can fail to be men and women, fail to be human.  For the human being is made in God’s image to love and serve his Maker and his fellows.  And if a thing fails of its essential purpose, it fails to exist.  A fire which fails to burn is not a fire.  A seat which collapses when you sit on it is for practical purposes no longer a seat.

That is why we need education while animals do not.  A lamb will skip about on its legs soon after it is born. A human baby needs two or more years and a good deal of patient tuition to get to that stage.  We have heard how a child brought up in India among wolves walked naturally on all fours.  It is within the choice of any of us to walk or not to walk.  A lamb separated from its mother and its flock and brought up as a domestic pet might make a very nice tame companion, but it would not begin to walk on two legs, even if you tried to teach it.   Nor would it forget its bleating and learn to speak.  Men and women can virtually turn into animals, but even faithful and friendly dogs and horses stop well short of turning into human beings.  The better they are as dogs and horses, the more we like them.

And the more human human beings are, the more we approve of them.  Education is, or ought to be, the process that turns us into fully human beings.  Which means that it will try to turn us into the beings God made us to be.

It is a grave thing to say, but “secular education” is a contradiction in terms.  True education would try to mold us in the image of Christ.  It would insist that no progress in any sphere of knowledge or activity can be a substitute for learning to know, to love, and to serve God.  And such knowledge, such love, and such service are the gifts of grace.  “By Grace ye are saved,” St. Paul said.  By grace alone can we become human.

 

 

That is why civilization is now in danger of returning to the jungle.  (Harry Blamires; On Christian Truth, 71-72)

 

 

Christ:

Where real knowledge and

wisdom begin

 

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