Previously, we’ve suggested that in our never ending quest for human meaning, people love to ask “Why”. Either as geeks, who want to know all the information behind it all, or as gurus, who want to know all the reasons for it all, people everywhere are chasing madly after answers. And there are lots and lots and lots and lots of books out there—not to mention TED talks, documentaries and other resources—all offering the answers we “need” to the questions we ask (Ecc. 12:12).
Questions include: Why did this sorrow happen? What is the meaning of that disaster? Is there any rhyme or reason to what happens on planet earth? What is the scientific or philosophical explanation for anything and everything that goes down in life?
But we’ve seen that King Solomon recommends in Ecclesiastes that we give up such “Whyning”; since it is ultimately meaningless. He’s not dissing education as if it’s a bad thing. But he is strongly recommending that we stop looking for more information and/or answers to life’s Why questions as a source of our meaning and happiness.
And he gives reasons why Whyning isn’t helpful; the first of which we looked at last time: there is always more to learn. If knowledge and reasons are what make you happy then you’ll always be frustrated, since there is always more to know than we can ever learn.
Ignorance Is Bliss
A second reason why Whyning is futile is because the more you learn, the more you lament. “…[I]n much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow” (Ecc. 1:18). There’s a reason why people say “Ignorance is bliss” and “Don’t tell me; I don’t want to know!” It’s because the more we know, the more we grieve. Increased knowledge is increased sorrow.
One reason there is so much depression in the world—even in places where there’s lots of wealth and health—is that we are constantly bombarded with bad news. We know more human sin, sorrow, and suffering than people ever did before. Technology megaphones human misery. There was a day when all the sadness that people knew happened in their little hometown or neighborhood. Now we know all the sadness that’s happening everywhere. And the more you learn the more you lament.
You Cannot Know Your Way Out of Sorrow
Another reason why the search for knowledge and reasons is futile is because no matter how much you learn, bad stuff (including death) will still happen to you. That’s the point of Ecclesiastes 2:12-17. Knowledge and answers to life’s Why questions will not shield you from the sufferings that make you ask Why. Both the person who knows why and the one who doesn’t, will still experience the same sorrows and death. Everybody suffers—and knowing why won’t change that.
I’ve had a constant headache for 32 years, and now have a constant terrible backache to match. I know the physical reason why my back aches (I’ve got three herniated discs and six bulging ones). But I don’t know the philosophical or cosmic reason Why my back aches. I don’t know the purpose, the reason, the ultimate meaning behind my backache. And even if I did, it would not make my backache go away. To be sure, we can learn things that can lead to cures for some diseases, and solutions for some problems. But we cannot know our way out of human sorrow. One way or another, it’s going to find us.
Better Than Trying to Know Everything
There still another reason why not to “Whyne” about life—but that’s for next time. For now, let me shine a bit of light into all this gloom. After all, it’s not very helpful just to know that there’s no point in trying to figure out life’s mysteries. Knowing that you cannot know isn’t very uplifting! We need more.
Do you remember our early summary of Ecclesiastes? Even if—in the quest for significance—we could try everything under heaven that there is to try, we would never find our meaning here; for our Maker is our meaning. Our Maker is our meaning. One secret to happiness and meaning is found in knowing well the few things you really can know; truths about God that he has made clear in nature and Scripture. Better than trying to know everything is to know some things about him really well.
I love Pastor John Piper’s words—“You don’t have to know a lot of things for your life to make a lasting difference in the world. But you do have to know the few great things that matter, and then be willing to live for them and die for them. The people that make a durable difference in the world are not the people who have mastered many things, but who have been mastered by a few great things. If you want your life to count, if you want the ripple effect of the pebbles you drop to become waves that reach the ends of the earth and roll on for centuries and into eternity, you don’t have to have a high IQ or EQ; you don’t have to have to have good looks or riches; you don’t have to come from a fine family or a fine school. You have to know a few great, majestic, unchanging, obvious, simple, glorious things, and be set on fire by them” (John Piper) .
That is absolutely right! So what are some of these great, majestic, unchanging, and simple things that can set your heart on fire? Here are a few (which, by the way, are not hard to prove):
-God is, and always has been.
-God is powerful.
-God is good.
-God is wise.
-God is for those who love him.
-God never fails.
-God is there and here and everywhere.
-God has visited earth in the person of Jesus.
-God has a plan and purpose for your life.
We need to think on these things. For while God will not answer all of life’s riddles, he is the simple and profound meaning behind all of life’s problems. That’ll get clearer as we continue on. But from where I’m sitting, it’s a good place to start.