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We Must First Understand That We Cannot Understand

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16When I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done on earth, how neither day nor night do one’s eyes see sleep, 17then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out.
(Ecclesiastes 8:16-17 ESV)


King Solomon applied his heart to know wisdom. The ancients thought the heart was where the mind resided. So King Solomon is telling us here that he took a sincere, intellectual approach to acquiring wisdom.

He also sought to see the business that is done on earth and how somewhere on earth there is always someone who is awake – life is always happening on this planet. He aimed to understand all we do and why we do it.

Such discovery is encouraged by God who wants us to pursue knowledge and understanding [Proverbs 15:14, 18:15; Ephesians 1:17; James 1:5 et. al]. God never advocates ignorance or misunderstanding.

King Solomon took all he learned about wisdom and work and then compared it to all the work of God. His conclusion: we cannot find out the work that God is doing on earth (under the sun).

There is much we can understand. But there is even more that we cannot – notably how God works. None of us can understand God’s ways.

Just like little children are bewildered and confused. They cannot understand the adult world even if someone were to explain it to them. Neither can any human being – who is a child in God’s sight – understand Him. His thoughts are much higher than ours [Isaiah 55:9; Romans 11:33; 1 Corinthians 20, 25].

No matter how much effort we put into trying to understand God, we will not find it out. We cannot.

No matter how wise a man might be, if he claims to fully understand God he is mistaken. Life is too complicated and interwoven for any of us to figure it out.

As such we should stop our striving to understand and rest in knowing that God knows what He is doing. The godless search for answers to every question. They believe that with enough effort they can acquire enough wisdom to solve their problems. That is not true.

As we’ve already learned in our study of Ecclesiastes, the acquisition of wisdom just creates greater ignorance. When we answer one question we discover more questions that need to be answered. This happens with scientific discoveries all the time.

The godly, on the other hand, live without needing to get answers. They understand that they cannot understand everything. So they live in a quiet confidence. They trust God the way a child trusts her parents.

The book of Ecclesiastes was written during Old Testament times, some 600 years before Jesus. It plants the seed for a savior by warning people that human wisdom is vanity. While sometimes beneficial for life on earth it has no eternal value.

It is this realization that leads people to Jesus. No one will turn to Jesus for salvation until and unless they recognize their own inability to save themselves.

God wants us to stop trying to figure this life out. He just wants us to humble ourselves and submit to Him. He, our spiritual Father, knows everything. We, in comparison, know nothing. He can, and will, take care of us.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

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