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Ecclesiastes 1:17 And I set my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is grasping for the wind. (NKJV)

Apart from God, the pursuit of wisdom and understanding about how life works only brings frustration and disappointment. However, when a Godly perspective is brought to bear, this very same understanding becomes priceless.

Keep in mind that the writer, King Solomon, was stating his conclusions from purely horizontal observation. He was not injecting any eternal or spiritual meaning into his insights. His conclusions were brutally honest, not fatalistic. Life without God is hopeless.

It is a waste of time to become wise,
and understand WHY things are “the way they are”…
Apart from God, it only results in despair.

To understand life is a burdensome task that brings us to the brink of hopelessness (remember, “without God” is the point) . Why? Because the more you learn about it, the more you realize you don’t understand it and it doesn’t make sense. The more you learn about life in this sin-corrupted world, the more it will overwhelm you. The more you understand the nature of man, the more it will discourage you.

Ecclesiastes 1:13 And I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven; this burdensome task God has given to the sons of man, by which they may be exercised. (NKJV)

Man left to himself is recipe for disaster. Early in man’s history, he was left alone without laws or Godly restraint. The result was very quickly an entire creation whose “every thought was continually evil” (Gen 6.5). Out of the likely billions of people that existed (yes, billions even with a conservative birth rate; do the math with the lengthy lifespans and the number of generations from Adam to Noah) only one man and his family were found by God to be righteous (most people have the mistaken notion that only a few thousand, or maybe tens of thousands of people existed at the time of the flood; not true). God Himself was so bereaved that He was sorry He ever created man (Gen 6.6).

Apart from God, it is regrettable that man even exists.

Another reason Solomon says that wisdom is futile is because even if you do understand things, you can’t change them.

Ecclesiastes 1:15 What is crooked cannot be made straight, And what is lacking cannot be numbered. (NKJV)

No matter how well you understand the human problem, or how completely valid your solutions may be (apart from God), you cannot change how people are. What is crooked will go back to being crooked, even if you straighten it temporarily. There are so many things that need to be done to “fix” mankind, that they cannot even be numbered. The more you realize this, the more futile life becomes because you are faced with the harsh reality that you are powerless to change anything.

That is the view from “under the sun”, or in other words, from man’s perspective. What does God say about it?

James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (NKJV)

Why would God tell us to ask for wisdom if it is futile? Because the wisdom God gives is an entirely different type of wisdom. It is understanding from an eternal perspective, from a Godly viewpoint… it is VERTICLE wisdom (Godly), not horizontal wisdom (under the sun). When our goal is to apply God’s wisdom to the human dilemma, understanding it becomes imperative.

God’s wisdom allows us to correctly diagnosis
the sinfulness that is behind the behavior,
and apply the correct Eternal remedy.

Now, understanding “life” does not bring hopelessness, but hope, because we have a real answer. With God’s perspective now in play, we have reversed both of Solomon’s conclusions: it is not burdensome to understand the “ways of man” but helpful; nor is this understanding futile because in God’s power, we CAN facilitate real change.

With a “vertical perspective”, the crooked CAN be made straight,
and what is lacking CAN be numbered.

In other words, it is no longer futile to be wise about life because it allows us to correctly apply God’s solution to any human problem. It is no longer futile to understand why things “are the way they are”, because God is capable of effectively changing the problem at the source.

If the sinful, dangerous, uncertain condition of today’s world is causing you to feel hopeless, perhaps you are still viewing things from “under the sun”. Learn to look up to God (vertical thinking) and see life from His perspective. Having a vertical perspective allows you to live above the futility that life brings when lived apart from God. A vertical perspective is only achieved by vertical time with God (prayer and Bible study).

Heavenly Father, we pray for eternal perspective today. We ask you to give us hope in a life that would be hopeless without You. Help us to understand the difference between horizontal and vertical wisdom. We pray for discernment and insight into human behavior, and the wisdom to know the Godly solution that can bring real change and hope. In Jesus Name, Amen.

Contemplation: What is your general disposition concerning life, hope or hopeless? Are you discouraged and worried about life? About the future? Does learning the truth about sin and human nature cause you to feel futility or opportunity?

Application: Ask God to help you understand life from a “vertical” perspective. Learn the difference between human wisdom, and Godly wisdom. Don’t kid youself: a vertical perspective is only gained by vertical discipline… prayer and Bible study.


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