The perils of studying

Coming from a culture (and field of work) where successes in academics is highly valued, it’s good to reflect on the perils of pursuing knowledge.

Says who?

God made Solomon very wise. His understanding couldn’t even be measured. It was like the sand on the seashore. People can’t measure that either… He spoke 3,000 proverbs. He wrote 1,005 songs. He explained all about plants. He knew everything about them, from the cedar trees in Lebanon to the hyssop plants that grow out of walls. He taught about animals and birds. He also taught about reptiles and fish. – 1 Kings 4:30, 32-33

Solomon had incomparable wisdom and understanding. All the kings in those days sent people to listen to him. He was like the ultimate writer, philosopher, botanist, zoologist and more. These are the thoughts he had on knowledge and wisdom in the book of Ecclesiastes.

What knowledge can’t do

People can’t straighten things that are twisted. They can’t count things that don’t even exist… A lot of human wisdom leads to a lot of sorrow. More knowledge only brings more sadness. – Ecclesiastes 1:15, 18

Being with my grandma in hospital for the past few weeks has reminded me again of the truth in this. Medical knowledge itself is accompanied by plenty of things to be sad or worried about. There’s a limit to what humans can fix.

You can study too much

Books will never stop being written. Too much studying makes people tired. – Ecclesiastes 12:12

Earlier on he talks about the value of words of wisdom and proverbs given by the one Shepherd. Here, he warns against paying attention to anything in addition to these. I guess books always being written applies to both theology and philosophy, and any other field of study. I like studying so it’s helpful to remember that too much studying (and consequently being tired physically and spiritually) isn’t a good thing.

A bit satisfying

I took delight in everything I did. And that was what I got for all of my work. But then I looked over everything my hands had done. I saw what I had worked so hard to get. And nothing had any meaning. Nothing was gained on this earth. – Ecclesiastes 2:10-11

Solomon is talking about his building and landscaping projects, as well as his pursuit of pleasure. There’s delight in applying yourself to some projects, academic or otherwise, but this in itself doesn’t give lasting satisfaction. What does, then?

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