15 I have seen everything in my pointless lifetime: the righteous person may die in spite of their righteousness; then again, the wicked may live long in spite of their wickedness.16 Don’t be too righteous or too wise, or you may be dumbfounded. 17 Don’t be too wicked and don’t be a fool, or you may die before your time. 18 It’s good that you take hold of one of these without letting go of the other because the one who fears God will go forth with both.
19 Wisdom makes a wise person stronger than ten rulers who are in a city. 20 Remember: there’s no one on earth so righteous as to do good only and never make a mistake. 21 Don’t worry about all the things people say, so you don’t hear your servant cursing you. 22 After all, you know that you’ve often cursed others yourself! Ecclesiastes 7:15-22, CEB
Yesterday we suggested that we all struggle with “using” our faith (feel free to substitute the terms “wisdom” or “righteousness” where they apply) to get our desired outcome as opposed to humbly submitting ourselves to God. We need to be able to recognize our own powerlessness, our own lack of safety, deal with it, and then figure out whether or not we’re going to continue submitting ourselves to God.
It occurs to me, though, that we need to be nuanced in our conversation. The pursuit of wisdom and righteousness is not a bad thing. It’s just a bad thing when we do it from a place of self-deception…where we don’t realize we’re doing it to try to manipulate the world around us. As it says in v. 19, wisdom has the capacity to strengthen us.
And that’s why all this stuff is so confusing. Things can be both good and bad depending on the circumstances. I met with a man yesterday who has an addiction issue in his family that they’re all trying to address. His greatest strength as a father is also his greatest weakness. He’s good at recognizing his own powerlessness…but sometimes he uses powerlessness as an excuse to avoid conflict and bury his head in the sand. It’s so hard to live in a world where we can never say, “Do this, and don’t do that, and you’ll be okay.” Sometimes a thing is good. Sometimes that same thing is bad.
We need wisdom and discernment in our lives. We need a whole village to help us figure out what that looks like. But if we think that getting clever enough is going to solve all of our problems we have another thing coming! Life just isn’t that way.