May 26 – Ecclesiastes 1:12-18


Main Focus: All our search for knowledge and wisdom leaves us wanting unless it leads us to God, the source of all wisdom.

Like we said last week, the Teacher of Ecclesiastes is relentless, and over the next couple weeks we’ll see him assess different things we look to for hope or satisfaction, things like wealth and pleasure, and demolish every last one. But keep in mind, he’s taking all this apart to sift out those things that are truly lasting and valuable, namely all things about God and in relation to God. This week we’ll see him take aim at wisdom and philosophy and pronounce them, like the rest, hevel.

The book of Ecclesiastes works through several themes in cycles, and wisdom is one the Teacher comes back to several times. For that reason we’ll start discussion by reading two passages, 1:12-18 and 2:12-17, the latter of which will add some helpful material to what you and your members got from the sermon. In the first text the Teacher talks about his quest for wisdom and knowledge, surpassing all his predecessors (1:16). But from that lofty height he was able to look back on all he’d learned and declare it all hevel, like the actions of a madman running around trying to catch the wind (1:17b). He sums up this journey in a couple other places, explaining how he tried to figure out “the scheme of things” (7:25), the full breadth of all that God does under the sun (3:11; 8:16-17). But try as he might, he kept slamming into a wall: “However much a man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out” (8:17b).

That wall was his own limitations—he sought out a philosophical answer to everything, a unifying theory by which he could place all the work of God in heaven and on earth beneath his microscope, but he couldn’t find it. We’ll add 2:12-17 into the mix because there he points out that wisdom and learning aren’t utter garbage; they have some utility to them, but they simply can’t solve all your problems (the best example being your mortality; cf. 2:16).

Now, you might find Qoheleth’s quest for infinite understanding relatable…or not. Some of us struggle with this same thing, wanting to have an answer for every question, never appear stupid, and feel like we’ve got our head wrapped around everything of importance. But maybe more of us struggle with simply feeling that way about our own little lives. We want to know why this or that thing happened to us, what we’re supposed to do with our lives, or how to get by in a confusing and difficult world. Where the Teacher was looking for an explanation for all things, we maybe just want an explanation for all my things.

In discussion we’ll dig into that effect, asking ourselves how we typically turn to knowledge or learning to solve our problems. That should capture those of us who relate to Qoheleth and those who don’t, because all of us, in one way or another, seek out some sort of insight or know-how to get through our problems. We might ask a trusted friend, hit the Reddit threads, or just jump right in and trust our own know-how. And like the Teacher said, this isn’t to say learning and knowledge are bad things.

However, our impulse to hit the books or phone a friend to solve our problems shows how we conceive of our problems: we tend to think a little information will probably fix it. And that approach usually falls short when life is most confusing (as we’ll discuss). When out of nowhere a loved one gets a bad prognosis, or you get laid off, or a friend’s marriage falls apart, a little information isn’t going to solve it. Jumping in and trusting your own know-how won’t solve it. For all things that have no human answer, things we will all inevitably experience, eventually we will have to do business with God.

So in discussion we’ll talk about our reactions to those times in which life feels most confusing, and we’ll ask how we tend to think God feels about our situation. This will help set up our next passage, Matthew 11:25-30, where Jesus invites all who are weary to himself to learn from him and find rest. Because that’s how God feels about your confusion; he isn’t keeping a poker face about all the things he hasn’t told you about, nor is he waiting on you to figure it out already. For all the times we’re tossed around by the waves of life or feel adrift at sea, God stands on solid ground inviting us to find refuge with him and to seek insight from Jesus on how to live this stormy human life.

We’ll finish by discussing how this human experience of not having an answer for everything, what Paul describes like looking at ourselves in a dirty mirror (1 Cor 13:12), can propel us to grow in trusting God, to no longer need to wrap our heads around the cosmos or our own little lives because we know our Father in heaven has all that covered. And in his loving arms we can find rest for our souls.

Discussion questions

– Could two people read Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 and 2:12-17 for us?

– What is the Teacher saying about wisdom here?

– What are some ways you look to knowledge or learning to solve your problems?

– When life feels most confusing, how do you typically react?

– When your life feels confusing, how do you think God feels about your situation?

– Could someone read Matthew 11:25-30?

– How can this passage help us get through those confusing times?

– In what ways do you want to grow in trusting God when things are confusing?


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