For the past 40 years I’ve pastored a church in the D.C. Metropolitan area. I have shepherded experts in their fields—people far smarter and more educated than I am—who are authorities in areas such as medicine, politics, economics, foreign affairs, and technology. Washington, D.C., attracts some of the world’s brightest, and I never cease to be amazed at what they accomplish or the exponential strides and advancements they help humankind achieve.
Our knowledge of medicine has eradicated many diseases, while technological advances have afforded us the ability to communicate in ways never imagined by our forebears. Lavish entertainment options help take the edge off a hard day at the office while nearly endless product lines promise to meet every felt need.
Humankind's knowledge is increasing at an exponential rate, and since knowledge is leveraged to solve problems, our problems should be shrinking. But that’s not the case. The reality is that our problems are increasing along with our knowledge, a phenomenon I call the “Ultimate Contradiction.”
Options, Entertainment, and Issues
Our increase in knowledge often expands our options. What once seemed like a blessing of abundance can actually paralyze our decision-making. We lie awake at night wondering which of 1,500 paint selections works best on our living room walls—and worrying we’ll make the wrong choice. And now, thanks to the internet, we can compare our choices to the choices of countless others. Every choice we make can be scrutinized and compared to those of our neighbors. While social media is a wonderful way to stay in contact with friends, who hasn't experienced the pain of feeling left out of pictures from the party you weren't invited to, or the cruise you can't afford, or the person with the bigger ministry?
At least we have the pleasure of entertainment to numb our pain. We can turn on the television or other personal entertainment devices and lose ourselves in hours of amusement. Surely we should be more relaxed as a result of all this “rest.” But of course this is not the case. Time with our families and loved ones is being sacrificed. Not to mention the host of problems attendant with a sedentary lifestyle. Still we chase the idea that the better our technology and knowledge, the better our lives.
As a pastor often called to minister to hurting families, I’ve been amazed—and at times overwhelmed—with the mental issues we are now facing. Despite our vast resources on adolescent and adult behavior and our tremendous strides in psychology and the science of the brain, we are dealing with more depression, anxiety, suicide, violence, and self-medicating through drugs and alcohol than I’ve personally ever before witnessed. Again, despite our increase of knowledge we are stymied by increasing problems that are not going away.
Yet I take great comfort in knowing that God's Word speaks to this Ultimate Contradiction. Proverbs tells us, “The eyes of man are never satisfied.” The prophet Jeremiah claims, “The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked.” Ecclesiastes says, “For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.” The apostle Paul writes, “The creation has been subjected to frustration” so that we might find hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
What I glean from Scripture is this: The abuse of knowledge will always nullify its benefits. While God has no problem with us increasing in knowledge, he does have a problem when we make knowledge our god. And when we make it our god, we find that our great wisdom deceives us. Simply put, when knowledge is used for the glory of God, the benefits will multiply; when used for the glory of man, our problems will multiply.
After pastoring for four decades, I’ve come to realize that our problem is not an issue of knowledge but an issue of the heart. I have seen the tragic consequences of people putting their hopes and dreams in the empty promises of human wisdom, which is knowledge apart from God. Jesus freed us from the Ultimate Contradiction when he said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” The Ultimate Contradiction is thus solved not in the pursuit of more knowledge, but only in surrender to Jesus.
I sit with many who have spent their lives worshiping at the altar of increased knowledge. They got into the best school and got the best job and made the most money and bought the big house—only to find their dreams could not satisfy. In the pursuit of knowledge they've left God out of their plans. But through the power of the gospel, they can graciously find God has not left them out of his.