“Your Word Is Truth”
‘Knowledge That Increases Pain’—to Be Avoided?
“IN THE abundance of wisdom there is an abundance of vexation, so that he that increases knowledge increases pain.” (Eccl. 1:18) This was the inspired conclusion of wise King Solomon. But why did he reach this conclusion? Should it deter us from gaining more knowledge?
It should be remembered that, in the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon was investigating the “calamitous occupation” of sinful, dying mankind. He said: “I set my heart to seek and explore wisdom in relation to everything that has been done under the heavens—the calamitous occupation that God has given to the sons of mankind in which to be occupied.” (Eccl. 1:13, 14) The wisdom and knowledge Solomon investigated therefore did not here include that which is needed to gain divine approval and blessing.
It is one’s increasing in human or mundane knowledge that can increase pain. Such knowledge can bring frustration and irritation. This is because one becomes painfully aware of the fact that so much in imperfect human society is deficient and beyond man’s ability to straighten out. Solomon highlighted this when he said: “That which is made crooked cannot be made straight, and that which is wanting cannot possibly be counted.”—Eccl. 1:15.
Then, too, the human life-span is very short. Hence, as a man increases in knowledge and wisdom, he begins to realize how limited his opportunities are to use his knowledge and wisdom. This makes it even more frustrating when problems and unfavorable conditions hamper his efforts to employ his knowledge and wisdom.
But this does not mean one should shun all human knowledge in order to avoid pain. For in every endeavor, whether it be a trade, craft, business or other occupation, a person needs some knowledge. Such knowledge can protect him from wasting his resources, efforts or abilities needlessly. In fact, knowledge is needed in order for one to keep on living. Says Ecclesiastes 7:12: “The advantage of knowledge is that wisdom itself preserves alive its owners.” Yes, knowledge can protect one, not only from calamity due to foolishness or stupidity, but also from self-destruction through vice, uncontrolled passions and damaging emotions.
Human knowledge and wisdom certainly have greater value than mere foolishness. Observed King Solomon: “I saw, even I, that there exists more advantage for wisdom than for folly, just as there is more advantage for light than for darkness. As regards anyone wise, his eyes are in his head; but the stupid one is walking on in sheer darkness.” (Eccl. 2:13, 14) The wise person has eyes that truly see, looking at and scrutinizing people and things. His eyes serve his intellectual powers and these feed the heart. But the person lacking in knowledge and wisdom does not see with thoughtful discernment. His eyes are “at the extremity of the earth.” (Prov. 17:24) They are wandering here and there with no fixed object in view, for his thoughts are everywhere except where they should be. This is harmful to himself as well as to others.
But not all human knowledge and wisdom are beneficial. The “wisdom of the world” may stand in opposition to God. This is because the overall outlook, methods, standards and goals of the world of mankind alienated from God are often contrary to the divine purpose. Regarding this the apostle Paul wrote: “Did not God make the wisdom of the world foolish? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not get to know God, God saw good through the foolishness of what is preached to save those believing. For both the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks look for wisdom; but we preach Christ impaled, to the Jews a cause for stumbling but to the nations foolishness; however, to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because a foolish thing of God is wiser than men, and a weak thing of God is stronger than men.”—1 Cor. 1:20-25.
Both to the ancient Greeks and Jews, a dead man hanging on a stake would have appeared as something “weak” indeed. To the Jews it was a cause of stumbling, for someone hung on a stake was viewed as accursed. And to the Greeks the very idea that something good could be accomplished through someone’s death on a stake sounded foolish. Yet Jesus’ death on the stake was actually no weak thing and no foolish thing. It provided the basis for fulfilling all of God’s promises respecting the future blessing of obedient mankind. Worldly wisdom that denies the ransom provision is foolish.
Also, regardless of how much knowledge or wisdom individuals may have by virtue of skill in trades, shrewdness in commerce, administrative ability, or scientific and philosophic learning, all efforts at perpetuating the present system of things are doomed to failure. When applied in efforts that ignore God’s provision of the ransom and his purpose to deal with mankind on this basis, knowledge ceases to have value. It cannot bring the desired results and, when so used, is no better than ignorance. It is just as Psalm 127:1 says: “Unless Jehovah himself builds the house, it is to no avail that its builders have worked hard on it. Unless Jehovah himself guards the city, it is to no avail that the guard has kept awake.”
If we are to avoid experiencing pain due to having used human knowledge and wisdom in the wrong way, we must shun everything that stands in opposition to the Creator and his purpose. We must also build our knowledge on the right foundation. What is this foundation? Job 28:28 answers: “The fear of Jehovah—that is wisdom, and to turn away from bad is understanding.”
The fear of Jehovah is an awe, a profound reverence for him with a wholesome dread of displeasing him. When individuals have this wholesome regard for the Creator, they do not deliberately use their knowledge for selfish purposes but seek the advantage of fellow humans. The wisdom that has the fear of Jehovah as its start produces better people and improved relations, for such wisdom “is first of all chaste, then peaceable, reasonable, ready to obey, full of mercy and good fruits, not making partial distinctions, not hypocritical.”—Jas. 3:17.
Thus it can be seen that knowledge centering around the Creator is the most valuable. Human knowledge, though accompanied by painful realizations about the limited use to which it can be put due to circumstances and a short life-span, also has its place, so that we do well to acquire a measure of it. But knowledge that stands in opposition to God’s purpose must be avoided if we are to escape the pain of seeing our work come to nothing. The pursuit of “falsely called ‘knowledge’” would cost us God’s approval and blessing for having failed to acquire the wisdom that has the fear of Jehovah as its start.—1 Tim. 6:20.