By Anthony Casperson
I want to praise God right now.
The story that follows could be taken as some sort of boastful self-congratulation, but that is not my point. The details could, if seen as the focus of the telling, lead some of you to believe that I think far too highly of myself. However, I tell the story for the purpose of leading us to worship God for being the faithful one who answers prayer. He answers even if we complain in the moment because we don’t have his perspective.
The next sermon series that I’m going to be preaching in the “Sermons” section of this website will go through the book of Ecclesiastes. As I’ve been in the beginning stages of working on that series, I came across the final verse of chapter one, which reads in the ESV, “For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.”
With wisdom comes great irked agitation. And additional understanding includes pain and suffering in this life. Basically, wisdom and The Depths have a firm kinship.
Some of you might be thinking, “Okay this isn’t anything new. You’ve had this point for about as long as you’ve been writing these blogs.” I even use Ecclesiastes 1:18 in the book I wrote as a reference for this very point. So, why the excitement for the same old verse?
That moment, looking at the verse for the sermon series, I thought about the original human author of those words: Solomon. Early in his reign, God came to Solomon, willing to give the young king one blessing. Whatever Solomon asked, God would give. He asked for wisdom. The wisdom to lead the people of God well.
God spoke well of the king for such a good request. Solomon would be the wisest (non-divine) human to ever exist. None would match his wisdom. The Israelite king still stumbled and sinned against God (which gives we less wise individuals confidence in our relationship with God when we do the same), but great wisdom was given to him nonetheless.
I remembered learning about Solomon’s request for wisdom when I was younger, probably pre-teen/early teenage years. I had looked at the story and saw the value of asking God for wisdom. I prayed, asking that he would give me wisdom like Solomon. My prayer was earnest, but didn’t have as dramatic of a response from God as the Israelite king had received.
My recent encounter with Ecclesiastes 1:18 caused to me realize that the pain and suffering of my own life, the sorrows of dealing with The Depths, were an answer to the prayer of that young man who asked God for wisdom. Wisdom and The Depths have a firm kinship.
Nearly a couple of decades now of dwelling in The Depths, I’ve only recently come to realize that it was an answer to prayer. Most of that time, I complained to God. I didn’t understand why the suffering had to happen. I knew that many others have suffered worse than I had, but I couldn’t see why I had to go through all of the things that I was going through. It didn’t make sense to me because I hadn’t come to learn the truth that to become wise one must become sorrow-known. Wisdom and The Depths have a firm kinship.
Most of the books of the bible that come to mind as wisdom literature speak to this idea of suffering. Ecclesiastes isn’t alone in this. The book of Job has as its subject a man who literally lost everything, suffering even loss of respect from his contemporaries, but who speaks highly of wisdom while continuing to praise God. The book of James (considered by many as the New Testament’s work of wisdom literature) spends great deals of time discussing suffering while following Jesus.
To ask for wisdom is to submit to sorrow. An answer to a prayer for wisdom isn’t having people praise you for your incredible mind, or consider you some wonderful guru. Rather, God’s response to such a prayer looks a lot more like the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. It’s a lesson that I’ve been learning for a long time now, but one that has only just left me crying out to God in praise for his answer to my prayer long ago.
God answers our prayers. It may not look like how we envisioned it would. But it will be his perfect answer. How has God answered the prayers you’ve prayed in the past? How many have you not yet realized are answers because they look very different than you thought they would? For some, this very global pandemic might just be an answer to a prayer.
But no matter what our prayers have been, God will answer them in his great wisdom. A wisdom that transcends even the wisest human to ever exist.