However else we are to understand Qoheleth (the “Teacher” or “Preacher”) in Ecclesiastes, it seems to me that it is important to pay attention to his wisdom statements—especially those where he speaks of his search for wisdom. The first such statement occurs in 1:16-17: “I said to myself, look I have increased in wisdom more than anyone else who has ruled over Jerusalem before me, I have experienced much wisdom and knowledge. Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom and knowledge . . . but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.”
He will admit in 3:11 that “no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Yet it seems as if that is the very thing he is trying to do—he’s trying to corner the market on answers to life. He takes up this theme again in the seventh chapter where he says, “I said, ‘I am determined to be wise’—but this was beyond me. Whatever exists is far off and most profound—who can discover it? So I turned my mind to understand, to investigate and to search out wisdom and the scheme of things . . . Adding one thing to another to discover the scheme of things—while I was searching but not finding” (v. 23-24, 28).
There’s nothing new about Qoheleth’s search (which is finally reconciled in 12:13-14). Like many philosophers who came before and after him, he is unwilling or unable to understand that the way to true understanding and wisdom is not through the accumulation of data but through a faith based relationship with the One who is the source of all reality, truth and wisdom. This is what the writer of Proverbs tells us in 1:7 and Qoheleth (for whatever reason) does not embrace. He would rather wallow in speculation rather than revel in revelation (see Psalm 119).
Centuries later Paul would address a church in Greece that stood in the traditions of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and others. Some there were working hard to make the good news of Jesus mesh with the prevailing philosophy in order to achieve social respectability. But God was not to be found at the end of a rational theorem or through speculative reasoning but on a Roman cross. That’s why Paul asks, “Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has God not made foolish the wisdom of this world? (1 Corinthians 1:20). He goes on to say that their inability to sync man’s thinking with God’s is no coincidence “since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know God” (1 Corinthians 1:21).
The answer is not in us but in Christ “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). We’re not made to know everything (see the philosophy books for details)—but we are created with the ability to trust our Father.