The Folly of Godless Wisdom
Ecclesiastes 2:12 – 17
“So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly. For what can the man do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done. Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness. The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them. Then I said in my heart, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” And I said in my heart that this also is vanity. For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.” (ESV)
In my college years, I took an intro class in Fairmont State's freshman honors curriculum that required the reading and discussion of modern and old philosophy. We discussed the ancient wisdom of Epictetus, Plato, and the knowledge of modern socialists who decried the evils of capitalism. At the time, I didn't take the class seriously since it was a required course taught by a homosexual, and the discussions were often on liberal ideals and principles that I openly rejected. It was a class for fallen people trying to find wisdom and reason within a seemingly chaotic world that, by chance, happened to exist and have living creatures in it. These living beings were not just creatures but people who could reason and logic and were self-aware of their existence.
This pursuit of worldly wisdom never ceases, for everyone gifted with a conscience tries to reason and find wisdom that applies to daily life. We often consider philosophy an intellectual pursuit for the self-proclaimed deep thinkers of academia, but the reality is that each living person develops a personal philosophy for their life. Crafted throughout our childhood development, the years we spent walking the harsh, dusty roads of life, and the people we met along the way, our philosophy informs our daily habits, ethics, actions, and so on.
Within our reading this morning, we find a man gifted with wisdom by God pursuing purpose within wisdom alone. Discovering that the heart alone cannot guide him, he lets wisdom now define his walk. Such a philosophical belief is still prevalent within the precepts of stoicism, divorcing emotion and the heart from wisdom. The mind's wisdom is more reasonable if the heart is corrupt and tyrannical. Suppose one can reason that some things will occur and that life continues. In that case, there's no logical reason to respond emotionally to misfortune or the inevitable, like death. One understands fate destined these things to be, and if one takes time to explore these tragedies, one gains more wisdom. They are like prospectors searching for gold amid the rubble of stones and dirt drowned by the clear, rushing streams, and so, we find Solomon prospecting, trying to find nuggets of purpose, and success continues to elude him.
Wisdom vs. Folly
What is folly? It's foolishness. It's pointless living defined by ignorance, wandering, and focusing on today rather than tomorrow. Solomon attempting to reason between wisdom and folly, finds that it is better to live wisely than foolishly (v. 13) and compares it to walking in light rather than darkness. Is this different from the same imagery used for famous allegories such as Plato's Cave? Rather than being confined to the dark cave of ignorance, staring at shadows on a wall, it is better to be walking in the light of wisdom. Indeed, those who walk in wisdom walk with their eyes rather than mindlessly stammering along life's journey.
Unfortunately, Solomon comes to the same sad conclusion regarding these two modes of living. Whether one walks in wisdom or foolishness, death is the result. Bury the wise man next to the fool and find both lost in obscurity to time. It's an impossible, inescapable reality when we stare at the landscape of eternity.
Why, Then, Have I Been So Very Wise?
“What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” Solomon asks his heart. Solomon assesses the gift God granted him and calculates whether the results are the same. What we witness within the passages is a man processing a gift of God and the purposes thereof. What’s the purpose of the gift of wisdom if there’s nothing to gain from it?
The heart of Solomon's question is, "Why does God do what He does?" Solomon cannot fathom why God granted him such great wisdom, yet all he finds is dissatisfaction and frustration. We ask this question at least once in each of our walks because there are circumstances, gifts, blessings, curses, trials, successes, mountains, and valleys that we experience, and so our hearts wonder why. The summarized answer to this complex question is within the 1689 London Baptist Confession 5:5:
“The perfectly wise, righteous, and gracious God often allows His own children for a time to experience a variety of temptation and the sinfulness of their own hearts. He does this to chastise them for their former sins or to make them aware of the hidden strength of the corruption and deceitfulness of their hearts so that they may be humbled. He also does this to lead them to a closer and more constant dependence on Him to sustain them, to make them more cautious about all future circumstances that may lead to sin, and for other just and holy purposes. So whatever happens to any of His elect happens by His appointment, for His glory and for their good.”
A Gift from God
All true wisdom is a gift from God. This is a foundational principle for our understanding. As we continue to explore Ecclesiastes in the future, we’ll see that wisdom is only attained through obedience and dedication to God. Wisdom apart from God is folly. One cannot be wise yet despise the Lord, just as oil cannot mix with water. "What about great minds like Socrates or Aristotle? Their wisdom is still discussed within academia today." What of them? Their wisdom is still worldly wisdom. There may be applications within daily life and ideas to discuss, debate, and meditate upon, but in the end, it's godless and foolish. Their wisdom is not everlasting; it does not grant anyone salvation and is certainly not influenced by the work of the Holy Spirit. The source of man's wisdom lies within a sinful heart and a fallen mind fogged by the consequences. Informed by perfect knowledge and an incomprehensible intellect, the head of God's wisdom is pure and righteous. He decreed the laws of existence, crafted the mind, granted it reason, awareness, and logic, and gave it the ability to communicate. God gifts even the wisdom of fallen man through His common grace.
Solomon attempted to use his wisdom without God’s direction and found that the result was the same. The wise and the foolish find themselves side by side in the grave. The actual difference lay in eternity. The wise who repented, believed in Christ, and submitted their lives to God’s authority find an eternity at the foot of God’s throne in perfect worship and fellowship. The fools who lived by their wisdom and rejected Christ found an irreversible eternal separation from God. Solomon correctly concluded the results of earthly wisdom. So, let us draw from heavenly wisdom so that our lives may be appropriately lived before God in submission to Him pointing to His Son, Jesus.
 2 Chronicles 32:25, 26, 31; 2 Corinthians 12:7-9
 Romans 8:28
 Prov. 1:7 – Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord, but the fear of the Lord begins with the work of the Holy Spirit within us. God draws us and opens our hearts and minds to His will and purposes. One can only gain true wisdom through the work of God within the soul. If one is apart from God, he is an enemy of God. God forbids access to the living well of wisdom, much like the Tree of Life. God does grant common grace unto man to think, reason, and explore, but the results apart from God are still the same – death.
 Ps. 14:1