Nihilism and the Bible – The Vanity of Knowledge

Solomon ends chapter 1 of Ecclesiastes by writing:

I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. What is crooked cannot be made straight,
and what is lacking cannot be counted.

I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to knowmadness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind.
For in much wisdom is much vexation,and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.

This passage might be more difficult for someone like me to accept, that even striving after knowledge is vanity. But why does Solomon say this? It seems that the Bible goes against thousands of years of philosophical knowledge. In fact, the irony is 600 years after Solomon, the Greek philosopher Socrates would teach that the pursuit of knowledge is good in and of itself.

In the modern age we love to use the phrase, “Knowledge is Power.” We encourage students to learn all that they can, but what use is it? All that we know goes with us to the grave. Even if we write it down, we suffer the same fate as those who engage in the pursuit of fame; the pursuit of knowledge, while more practical and a higher pursuit than fame, still has the same conclusion in nothingness.

What good is our knowledge if it is only temporary? What good is our knowledge if it only tells us how bad the world is and how vain the world is – as it did with Solomon – but tells us nothing of a solution? How wise is Nietzsche, who recognized the vanity of life, but who’s solution in the Overman was that of a madman? How wise are the postmodern skeptics who question this world, but then offer untenable solutions that further perpetuate the despair they sought to avoid? What good is knowledge when it cannot free us from despair?

Only knowledge founded in the pursuit of God is knowledge worth having. This does not mean we should only study theology, but merely in everything we learn it should, in some way, point back to God. When it is founded in God, it is eternal and therefore good. If it is not found in God, then it is temporal and therefore worthless.