In the book of Ecclesiastes we are told that “with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge the more grief” (1:18).  This is one of those passages that might seem counter-intuitive, especially to the young.  But if ever there was a biblical dictum that is proven by experience, this is it.

It is interesting to note that this passage confirms a popular idiom, namely that ignorance is bliss.  The suggestion seems to be that knowledge and wisdom are proportional to pain and sorrow, respectively.  If so, then the less knowledge/wisdom one has, the less grief/sorrow one experiences.  And a complete absence of knowledge/wisdom would therefore mean a complete absence of grief/sorrow.  In other words, ignorance is bliss.  Of course, there are other ways to ruin one’s bliss that don’t involve knowledge/wisdom, such as through brute physical pain.  One need not have any genuine knowledge/wisdom in order to suffer.

Now let’s reflect on some implications of this passage on the positive end, that is, for those who have an abundance of knowledge and wisdom.  Their lives would presumably be marked by grief and sorrow.  Jesus Christ, as God incarnate, would have a maximal amount of knowledge and wisdom.  Wouldn’t it follow, then, that he would be very sorrowful?  This is exactly what the Scriptures tell us, as Isaiah refers to the Messiah as the “man of sorrows” (Isa. 53:3).

Another implication is that to follow Christ and strive for wisdom and understanding is to commit to a life of grief and sorrow.  That’s not exactly how the Gospel is pitched in our culture.  But, then again, that’s not really the whole truth of the matter, since the faithful Christian’s sorrow is actually accompanied by joy.  This is one of the existential paradoxes of Christian experience, as we actually experience joy in our troubles and trials (cf. 2 Cor. 7:4; James 1:2).  And this joy is grounded in knowledge, quite the opposite of the bliss of ignorance.

2 Responses to “Reflections on Ecclesiastes 1:18”

  1. Infinitemirth


    It’s possible (though perhaps support in the Biblical text may be scant) that the Preacher’s tone of despair and resignation (which permeates the book) makes the point that it is in the pursuit of much of wisdom and more knowledge there is sorrow and grief–because full knowledge is never attainable, at least in this world. The Christian, however, can look forward to the day of Jesus Christ for then it is when wisdom and knowledge are fulfilled and made complete.

  2. Ben Turnbill


    A notion I favor is The ease of a Christian’s yoke is granted by the degree to the extent that he accepts it (Faith, holy love). (“He’s not heavy; he is my brother!”)


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