I listened to a guest on a radio program recently who has a measurable Intelligence Quotient (I.Q.) of 200. I was very impressed. Not that I understood everything he said.
Callers also seemed very intelligent with their questions and comments. But my favorite caller didn’t get on the show until after Mr. I.Q. was gone. The core of the late-caller’s concern was: if geniuses are so smart, why don’t they fix the world? Caller and host agreed that people with intelligence measured in the gifted range probably engage in other brands of problem solving.
It would seem that fixing the world would be a good project for the smartest people on the planet, though. However, one’s I.Q. does not always determine success or failure in life let alone an ability to come up with solutions for an ailing planet.
The smartest person I have ever known personally, whose I.Q. measured 160, was also the saddest, in my opinion. He dropped out of high school, focused his mental and verbal acuity on becoming a popular, local “disc jockey,” performed in some local theater as well as in a bit role in a movie based on an area incident, and died young due, no doubt, to heavy smoking, drinking, and eating. But what led me to my observation about his life was his cynicism. His mental genius manifested most in that aspect of his personality. But the problem with cynicism, in my view, is that when it is used as an “end” and not just a “means” the cynic is always right. And then what do you do? End of conversation.
It is very hard to engage in a satisfying relationship with cynics, whose raison d’etre seems to be to continually point out the absurdities of flawed human beings because, well, human beings are flawed and we do absurd things. It’s the ultimate circular argument only with a twist of wit. And though the cynic is insightful (and the more the intelligence the more the insight) and often entertaining, unless he does something about the folly of which he scoffs he remains in a frustrating reality, stuck on a fence “cynicizing” into the wind as weary listeners eventually move on. It’s a lonely place, I think.
But of course lesser mortals, too, succumb to cynicism from time to time, even people of faith. Indeed, one of the books in the Christian “user’s manual,” the Bible, is devoted in part to a cynical worldview.
DUST IN THE WORLDVIEW
“Everything Is Meaningless”
“Wisdom Is Meaningless”
“Pleasures Are meaningless”
“Wisdom and Folly Are Meaningless”
And, the sub-headings continue, although there is “A Time for Everything,” including the good with the bad, there is also “Oppression, Toil, Friendlessness,” and against all those odds, “Advancement is Meaningless.”
So how does the writer summarize life here on terra firma? “Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” (3:19-21).
At this juncture the author of the book suggests only this modest conclusion: enjoy your work because “that is (your) lot” (22). But don’t forget, “Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand” (5:15)
Based on the first few chapters, anyway, it seems my braniac friend was right. Cynics unite!
But fortunately, the author of Ecclesiastes climbs down off his acerbic perch and posits wisdom of another kind, wisdom not apt to diminish and/or disappoint as do the riches of the world and pleasures of the flesh.
The brilliance in what I call the “Ecclesiastes Quotient (E.Q.),” i.e., the magnitude of the wisdom in that book, lies not just in its astute assessment of our inevitably disappointing state, but in its presentation of the hope still available. Back on solid ground by chapter 12, the author offers this path out of pathos: “(Here) is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (12:13).
One of my favorite Bible commentators, Matthew Henry, puts it this way: Solomon (to whom many attribute authorship), in this book, assures us that to fear God and to keep his commandments is the whole of man. He shows the vanity of those things in which men commonly look for happiness, as human learning and policy, sensual delight, honour and power, riches and great possessions. He prescribes remedies. Though we cannot cure (power, riches, etc.) of their vanity, we may prevent the trouble they give us, by sitting loose to them, but laying our expectations low from them, and acquiescing in the will of God, especially by remembering God in the days of our youth, and continuing in his fear and service all our days .
And why “fear God” (“fear, hold in awe, respect, and/or reverence”-Strong’s)? Psalm 34 lists a few benefits: This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. Fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. (6-10)
Charm betrays, money dwindles and strength (mental as well as physical) diminishes; in other words beauty, bucks, and brawn will likely let us down. (The cynics are right again.)
But there are those despite their circumstances who focus awe, respect, and reverence elsewhere: on God. And onlookers observe lives changed, hearts softened, minds and bodies healed–and cynicism abated. The writer of Ecclesiastes, esteemed as the world’s wisest man, came, at book’s end, to a similar conclusion.
But why not skip to the last verse right now, call on the Lord for help, and glean as much E.Q. as we need—I.Q. notwithstanding? As put by Another: Call to me, and I will answer you, says the Lord, and show you great and mighty things which you know not” (Jeremiah 33:3 ASV).
Give Him a try.
 Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary. Ed. Rev. Leslie F. Church, Ph.D., F.R. Hist. S. Grand Rapids: Zonervan, 1961. 791.
Photo from the public domain