T. PIERCE BROWN
Solomon made many interesting statements, few of them more intriguing than the one in Ecclesiastes 1:17-18, “And I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also was a striving after wind. For in much wisdom is much grief; and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.”
How does that fit with his statement in Proverbs3:13, “Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding?” Proverbs 4:7-8 says, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom; yea, with all thy getting get understanding. Exalt her, and she will promote thee; she will bring thee to honor, when thou dost embrace her.”
Does it make any sense for Solomon to tell us to strive for that which will bring sorrow? If “happy is the man that finds wisdom,” how can it produce sorrow? In digging for answers to those questions, we uncover tremendous truths, but this article can not exhaust the mine of wealth.
First, let us be aware that the searching for and acquiring anything of value may increase sorrow. Solomon also said, “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favor of Jehovah” (Proverbs18:22). I found one many years ago, and she has brought happiness and the favor of Jehovah of which I had not dreamed. If I should lose her, it would increase sorrow many fold. In fact, the degree to which I esteem or value her is the degree to which my sorrow would increase. But Tennyson had it right when he said, “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
The same principle is true with the gaining of anything valuable. If one has wealth, it may be good. But surely there is no question that the increase of wealth increases sorrow. The anxiety one may have in getting it, the fear one may have of losing it, the increased sense of responsibility for using it properly, and the recognition of the danger of losing one’s soul because of it all are reasons why the increase of it increases sorrow.
But what are some specific ways or reasons the increase of knowledge increases sorrow? In answering that, let us be keenly aware that increasing sorrow does not imply the absence of joy or happiness. When my mother died, I felt a sorrow and loss that perhaps only those who have experienced such can understand. But it did not keep me from feeling a great joy and happiness, not only because of precious memories, but also of anticipation of future bliss.
Often an increase of knowledge brings increase in sorrow because one sees that he is far more ignorant than he thought he was. For as the area inside the circle of knowledge increases, the circumference of the circle which touches the unknown increases proportionately. Also, the realization that all the knowledge and wisdom in the world does not change anything until it is properly used has caused sorrow to me. Solomon is a case in point. He knew and revealed that consorting with ungodly women was dangerous. But it did not do him any good. He was the wisest man that had ever lived, and acted like the biggest fool.
This is one reason why politicians and social workers and others are wrong when they think that the cure of AIDS, unwanted pregnancies, drugs, and the cure for other ills of society, will be found in spending millions of dollars on education. If the education is designed to properly change attitudes and hearts, it would be a different matter. But knowing the causes of AIDS and knowing the result of taking drugs and knowing how to prevent pregnancy will increase sorrow in at least two ways. First, as we see that the cure is so easy to grasp if one would use God’s method of changing the will and heart, yet we see that cure rejected, we will be sad. Second, it will increase the sorrow of those who know the cure, yet do not have the will to use it.
Christ, knowing that few would respond to His love, still was willing to die on the cross to make their salvation possible. He said, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death” (Mark14:34). Yet Hebrews 12:2 says, ” — who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
So we, recognizing that a very small percent will ever respond and accept the gospel message which we hope will be sent to every home in the world, will have an increase in sorrow. But we can, for the joy that is set before us, be a little like Christ in giving ourselves for the mission for which He died.
Even as important as it is to know God and Jesus whom He sent, for this is life eternal (John 17:3), it may well increase sorrow. But remember, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn” (Matthew 5:4). It will increase sorrow in at least two or three ways. First, the more deeply I am aware of the fact of Jesus’ suffering, the more my heart is touched by it. I am not ashamed of the fact that I sometimes cry when I think of Christ hanging on the cross with His heart breaking for the sins of the world. Second, it increases my sorrow as I realize that my sins are the kind of sins that caused Him to go there. This is partly what Paul was speaking about when he said, “For godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation, a repentance which bringeth no regret: but the sorrow of the world worketh death” (2 Corinthians7:10). This should help us to see again that sorrow is not always bad, and increase of knowledge may increase sorrow. Third, it increases my sorrow when I know that friends and loved ones are unwilling to accept with grateful hearts the sacrifice of Christ on the terms it was offered. But that still does not negate the statement of Psalm 126:6, “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”
These are just a small part of how and why increase of knowledge may increase sorrow. But remember that Jesus said, “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John8:32). The joy of knowing the truth, of being free, and helping others to be free in Christ is greater and more significant than the sorrow that will come with the increase in knowledge.
T. Pierce Brown
1068 Mitchell Ave.
Cookeville, TN. 38501
Phone: (615) 528-3600