Does Increased Access to Knowledge Satisfy More in the Long Run?

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History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.— Ecclesiastes 1:9

We live in a unique time in human history. I am sure everyone has thought that at least once as our world experiences technological advances at a breathtaking rate.

I was born in 1980. Just in my lifetime, I have listened to music on multiple formats (eight-track, record, tape, CD, streaming), I went from using a payphone to now telling my smart phone to call someone. I have gone from searching the Dewey Decimal system at the library to having access to the seemingly omniscient Google search.

More access to knowledge seems to bring with it more lonely people. 

Despite how technology has opened up the world in ways I would have never imagined, it has also brought about a seemingly unexplainable sorrow at times. The simplicity of waiting on a letter in the mail. The excitement of opening a CD and reading the lyrics and looking at the pictures. The absence of texting as kids gathered outside to play sports with their actual minds and bodies.

Lately I have wondered what people will say about this specific time in history thirty years from now. Will they laugh at videos of people walking straight into each other because we couldn’t walk down the street while looking at our phones? Will they assess us as a people who were longing for love but shut ourselves off from real people? Will the statistics show that our population severely decreased due to the accessibility of people staying single because we had many lovers at the touch of a button?

Even King Solomon searched for meaning in life, despite his great riches and wisdom.

King Solomon was a man who had experienced every type of pleasure under the sun. 1 Kings 3:12 tells us that God gave Solomon such a wise and discerning mind that there would be none like him either before or after he lived.

Yet, in his search for meaning in the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon is still looking for the meaning of life.[1] While some readers may not give into drunkenness or sexual immorality, one thing we probably have not considered a danger is too much knowledge. Solomon would argue otherwise. In Ecclesiastes 1:18, he makes a pretty strong statement when he says,

For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.

After the wisest man in the world sought out more knowledge, he found it brought vexation and sorrow. Now I am no prophet, but I do believe there is something happening in our current cultural landscape upon which this verse sheds light. We are a people with more knowledge at our fingertips than any other time in history; yet, we are more depressed than most of our ancestors.

Our insatiable desire for knowledge will not satisfy.

As I pastor, I have seen this especially among 18 to 30-year-olds. I have watched them devour audiobooks and podcasts at a rapid rate and still heard them express loneliness. I have witnessed them have access to more tools that could benefit them in their relationships, but they have expressed to me how utterly alone they feel. In regard to Solomon, David Gibson writes, “Degree certificates line his study walls, but his tears are the same as the person working on the street who never even went to school.”[2] Is there a connection? I think so, and the time to change is now rather than thirty years down the road.

Solomon is trying to warn us that our insatiable desire for knowledge will not satisfy. In fact, if we continue at the rate we are going, our heads will be as big as balloons while our hearts may melt in sorrow. This sorrow with which we all are becoming more familiar will not be minimized by another fun fact. Vexation is not blown away with the winds of newness. That new phone will not give you what you are longing for (neither will the iOs13 update; you’ve been through this before). No, under the sun is a cursed world where God has fashioned his people with the inability to satisfy themselves with knowledge. 

We need to look above the sun, not under it, for lasting satisfaction. 

Yet, there is a knowledge that we can desire that does turn sorrow to satisfaction. But this is a knowledge that is above the sun. It is as Philip Ryken states,

This is one of the main reasons why Ecclesiastes is in the Bible. It is here to convince us not to love the world or live for its pleasures. This message is not intended to discourage us or to make us any more depressed than we already are, but to drive us back to God.[3]

As we look up to Christ, we are reminded that he is the Wisdom of God that came to us to open our eyes. As Paul writes to the Corinthians,

And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:30-31)

Our wisdom from God is Jesus Christ.

Paul is saying that the wisdom we have is not the degrees that line our walls, nor the completed books we have read, but Jesus Christ himself. Not only that, Jesus became the man of sorrows who went to the cross so that we could die to foolish knowledge and be awakened to him!

The way forward is not to trash all our good gifts. We need the beauty of music, the ability to read good books, and the freedom to enjoy knowledge. We also need to give our brains and hearts time to connect in a balanced way. Oftentimes our heads are so far ahead of us that the knowledge never affects the heart. May we be people who seek knowledge as a gift from God while patiently and thoughtfully applying it for the good of our neighbor and the glory of our Savior. 

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col. 3:1-4)

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Wes Van Fleet is a pastor at Kaleo Church in El Cajon, California, and the author of Father of Lights: Daily Meditations on Scripture for New Dads.

[1] Not all people believe Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes, but this writer does.