12 ¶ And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what can the man do that cometh after the king? even that which hath been already done. 13 Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness. 14 The wise man’s eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness: and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all. 15 Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity. 16 For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? as the fool.
Solomon turned wisdom and foolishness, being wise or being mad, over in his head and as he thought about those things he realized that no one who would come after him would do any better than he did. He had everything a man could possibly want and yet he still felt it did not answer the questions that plagued his soul.
He understood that wisdom was better than the foolishness he pursued by far. The common Christian has answers that Solomon did not. Paul told us;
Philippians 2:3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. 4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
Solomon’s introspection, his focus on the pursuit of the questions to his answers, was not satisfying. Although wisdom is certainly better than the folly of wine and excess and sin, for the Christian, satisfaction must come in the pursuit of the needs of others, and in their benefit. None of us will ever be truly happy if we seek our own wisdom only. For Christ is our wisdom.
1Corinthians 1:24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God…30 But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:
The answers to our soul’s hunger for satisfaction must come in the service of others for Christ. We will never be happy serving ourselves only. Seeking knowledge and wisdom by itself alone will never produce the feeling of fulfillment that man and woman desires. The monk in the monastery, the everyday Christian huddled over his Bible or in prayer, cannot hope to know the contentment and peace that comes from acts of service in Christ’s name.
Mark 9:41 For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.
We need to commune with and have fellowship with our Lord through His word and prayer. But, at some point we must leave our Jerusalem and encounter a lost world for Him. We must engage our mission field or we will never find satisfaction as a Christian.
Our mission field is our family, our coworkers, our neighbors, all first, and then strangers we meet randomly. It is the difficult relative who is skeptical about your beliefs. It is the coworker whose wife left him, the neighbor who has lost a child, and the stranger with the worried look on his face at the gas pump. A good, Christian mother is the classic example of this as she serves her children and their children, perhaps, her entire life, selflessly, putting her own comfort and health aside to move them forward, always talking about her love for Christ. The man in the church family who quietly goes about helping others and making himself available for the assistance they need but cannot obtain on their own is another example. These are only two and there are many others.
A pursuit of knowledge and wisdom and understanding by itself is no knowledge, wisdom, or understanding at all if they are not bound up in mercy and the ministry of reconciliation with Almighty God. Trust me, I am the classic bad example of the person who has used knowledge as a shield, wisdom as a cloak, and understanding as a panic room to protect myself from confrontation and facing my own personal failings.
Solomon could see that, initially, he was better off being wise than being a fool. But, in the end, both the wise and the foolish wind up in the same grave. One is no better off than the other. If you have been a wise person your whole life, prudent, careful in the things you do and cautious in the things you allow, always using your head in every situation and being disciplined in every way, you will still wind up dying like any fool who burnt out their body in wine, food, and excess. In a relatively short period of time you will not be remembered any more than the fool who you think is living stupidly.