So I decided to compare wisdom with foolishness and madness (for who can do this better than I, the king?). I thought, “Wisdom is better than foolishness, just as light is better than darkness. For the wise can see where they are going, but fools walk in the dark.” Yet I saw that the wise and the foolish share the same fate. Both will die. So I said to myself, “Since I will end up the same as the fool, what’s the value of all my wisdom? This is all so meaningless!” For the wise and the foolish both die. The wise will not be remembered any longer than the fool. In the days to come, both will be forgotten. So I came to hate life because everything done here under the sun is so troubling. Everything is meaningless—like chasing the wind. (Ecclesiastes 2:12-18, NLT)
Having announced his quest for the meaning of his life, Qoheleth conducted multiple experiments from every possible avenue, leaving no stone unturned. Starting with laughter, wine, women, and song; he then moved to architectural and engineering projects in order to have real estate to possess, followed by economic growth, amassing an enviable if not obnoxious wealth portfolio. His assessment of all of it was that it was meaningless, and as if to be clever, states that there is no profit in profit.
Qoheleth then decided to turn to his chief resource, his wisdom, and compared it with foolishness. He grants that in the end its better to live as a wise man versus a foolish man, the difference between being as obvious as night and day.
But just when we thing he’s turning a corner, he restates his chief complaint. At the end of it all is the end of it all. While wisdom may provide some satisfaction during life, the wise one is just as mortal as the fool. Everyone dies, and no one memorializes them. With particular angst in his voice, he states, “I came to hate life.” Judging by the ego-centric tone of the book, we could insert the pronoun “my.”
Wisdom may relieve a person from the evil business of living life, but it doesn’t solve the death problem. It’s as though life has played a trick on him, and even though he clings to wisdom, deep down he feels like a fool.
Lest we pull up a chair at Qoheleth’s table and become co-lamenters, we need to pause and remember the biblical principle of “othering.” It doesn’t take much to become jaded about life when it’s lived in the first person singular. We have been created for community, where we can know and be known. It’s easy to over value ourselves and our importance to the world. But our truest value comes from being made in the image and likeness of God, and that value is only fully understood in the context of relationships. God doesn’t love all of us, He loves each of us, for no other reason than we are his. And his love doesn’t diminish or heighten based on whether we are wise or foolish. The life we live may be forgotten, but that doesn’t mean we have to be forgettable.