We are looking at Ecclesiastes for the exhortations while we do the "I AM" sermon series. In this book we have the author, whose basic goal is to use the main character in the book, the Teacher, to deconstruct all the ways that we find meaning and purpose in life apart from God. The Teacher, or as I have been referring to him as the Critic, says 38 times that everything is hevel, hevel, utterly hevel. That's the Hebrew word in the Bible and it is a metaphor to describe how life is fleeting and temporary. It refers to something like smoke or vapor. Just when you are trying to grab onto something good, tragedy hits. Bad things can happen to good people.
Today we are going to hear from the Critic in regards to wisdom. First, the author knows about the book of Proverbs and understands that there are real advantages to wisdom and the fear of the Lord. In general, life will go better for you if you pursue wisdom and a healthy fear of the Lord.
And yet the critic challenges us. Living by wisdom and the fear of the Lord is hevel too because they don't guarantee a good life. Some wise people die tragically and other foolish people live long and prosper. There are just too many exceptions. So, even wisdom is hevel.
The critic is not saying that wisdom is meaningless, but rather an enigma, a vapor. Right when you think that you are being wise in your decision making, a happenstance occurs, something unforeseen happens, and tragedy strikes, and your wisdom could not protect against it. It's outside your control. Wisdom does not always work the way you think it should work. Ecclesiastes 9:11 says:
"Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. For man does not know his time."
We often fall into the trap of thinking that if we read enough, study enough, look through the right self-help book, then success will happen.
And yet, we know that the Critic is right, that wisdom doesn’t guarantee success. Often times we do the right thing and study hard and train hard, yet an unforeseen unfortunate event happens and all our hard work seems to be for nothing. And often we end up repeating this phrase in our head "this is not fair".
It's like studying for a final. You can work for days in preparation for that final. You were using all the wisdom you could muster up to study the right problems and right chapters, and then the final comes and the whole exam is based on one problem, and it comes from an obscure part of the content. You end up doing poorly on the exam, and vent to all your friends and family how this is not fair. And then you talk with another classmate who you know didn't study as hard as you did and they happened to look at the right example problems and they scored well on the exam. Then you really get fired up with the "it's not fair."
I think we all have examples where we feel life is not fair.
The French military leader Napolean Bonaparte said "I do not want a good general, I want a lucky one."
This follows the classic adage "it is better to be lucky than good."
So, what's the answer – should we just not study, not pursue wisdom, not study our bibles, not read really good books from biblical scholars, not do the quarterly?
No, that's not the answer. Wisdom is important. Wisdom is not meaningless. It's just that it is hevel. It is fleeting. We need to accept the fact that sometimes all of our hard work to make the best decision possible may turn out poorly. Life is too random and too complex to offer any guarantees one way or the other.
And by accepting hevel, we are now free to work really hard and make the best informed decisions, and read great books, and study our Bibles without expecting certain results or strong arming God to do it our way. We can stop fighting God in this internal battle where we functionally saying "God, I did this so now you owe me." The Critic is helping us by saying, wisdom is an enigma. It doesn't always work the way you want it to. Right when you think you can latch onto a good decision, the situation changes.
This is where faith enters in. We need to turn not to our wisdom as the end all be all, but rather turn to a person, who has all wisdom. Jesus knows perfectly your situation and the 10,000 effects of what you are doing. He is wise and he knows what he is doing. In our wisdom, and our finite perspective, we may not understand why he is doing what he is doing, but the reality is, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.
There is something greater than our wisdom. It is Jesus. Colossians 2:3 says:
"In [Jesus] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."
Jesus is trustworthy because he has ALL the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. We can trust him.
A posture of total trust in God frees us to make the best decision we can with what we know at the time, without all the pressure that we have to get it right, because the reality is we are not God and we do not know the future and getting wisdom does not make us god and does not guarantee success.
A posture of total trust in God frees us to pursue wisdom. The Critic does have some good things to say about wisdom. Ecclesiastes 9:17 says "The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools." This verse accompanies well the book of Proverbs where Lady Wisdom explains how doing the right thing through wisdom typically leads to good things. And that train of thought is very important and will probably be part of a Proverbs exhortation series at some point in the future similar to this one.
So, when we put our identity in Jesus and latch onto him as the solid rock, then the fleeting nature of wisdom will not be paralyzing to us. We can make decisions by faith, study our Bibles in faith, and walk forward in freedom trusting in God and not in our decision making or our wisdom.
I want to exhort us this morning to pursue wisdom, and work hard in making good decisions, but to do so out of faith in God. We need to humbly turn to Jesus, study our bibles, pray in the Spirit, and by doing so make open handed decisions where the result may not go in our favor. If our efforts and our wisdom does prevail, know that this is a gift from God, and be thankful, because it doesn’t always go our way. And I exhort us to trust God when it seems like we are doing all the right things and yet life does not go our way. In those moments, I pray, that we would hold onto Christ and not our seemingly fleeting wisdom.