Aristotle says that the need to know is a basic human need, yet it remains with me largely unfulfilled in things that matter. Over and over runs the refrain throughout Ecclesiastes “you don’t know”, “we don’t know”, “no man knows.” It is good to unknow things that aren’t so.
We want to know in order to control, in order to certainly extract happiness from this temporal life. That power eludes us despite self-help promises otherwise. Among those things we do not know are:
“Whatever has happened” (7:24)
What is happening (8:17)
“What will happen next” (3:22; 6:11; 6:14)
What disasters lie ahead (8:6 – 7; 11:1 – 5)
What happens after death (3:20)
“The meaning of anything” (8:1)
Life or how God works (11:5)
“God’s work from beginning to end” (3:11)
In other words, God is doing, but you do not know what he is doing, and neither do those who profess otherwise, never mind what books and CD’s they sell.
Many dismiss Ecclesiastes’ confessions as the rant of a depraved elderly Solomon, worn out by too many wives and too much luxury. But disturbing as they are, these confessions are simple observable fact. This book is canonical for good reason. Sometimes, the sunshine-all-the-time people have to face reality. Ecclesiastes proves itself in the foxholes.
All we can know, and need to know, is:
Though “the days of darkness will be many” (11:8)
“All will be well with those who fear God” (8:12)
“All things are under God’s control” whether we see his hand or not (9:1)
Therefore: we can be happy in the simple blessings of food, drink, companionship, and something to do. (9:7 – 11) Also, because we do not know and cannot control the outcomes, we must be willing to embrace reasonable risk.
The end, and summation, of the whole matter is this: “fear God and keep his commandments” (12:13) There you have a solid place to stand and to build your life.