If you’ve ever sat in on a high school history class, you will know for a fact that there are, indeed, stupid questions.
Do not be overrighteous,
neither be overwise—
why destroy yourself?
Do not be overwicked,
and do not be a fool—
why die before your time?
It is good to grasp the one
and not let go of the other.
Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.
Is he really making a blanket statement that we should not be too righteous or too wise? Is he allowing for a little wickedness and foolishness?
Now, I can’t speak directly for the Teacher (or Solomon), but here’s what I think is going on:
If these verses could be written in sarcasm font, I think they would have been. I think the Teacher is giving bad answers to bad questions. Think about it: Where in Scripture do we see degrees of righteousness? We’re either righteous or we’re not. When Jesus challenged his disciples that their righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20), he would later reveal that the Pharisees were not really righteous in the first place.
The same goes for wisdom. Sure, someone might be more wise than someone else, but how can a person be too wise? That’s like saying, don’t be too good looking. Don’t be too healthy. Don’t be too good at your job.
How about wickedness? Where in Scripture does is say it’s okay to be a little wicked, just don’t overdo it. That’s like saying it’s okay to put a little bit of dog poop in the brownies, just not so much that it overpowers the chocolate flavor.
These are bad answers to bad questions. The sad part is we continue to ask these same questions expecting a different answer!
How righteous do I need to be for God to accept me?
How wise must I be in order to find my purpose in life?
How much can I sin and still be in God’s good graces?
How close can I get to that line without going over?
These are the wrong questions! Yet we continue to ask them on a daily basis.
As we read in Romans, Paul was dealing with many of the same issues. He says that our own righteousness will never be enough because NO ONE is righteous, not even ONE. Everyone has sinned and continually falls short of God’s glory. No one is wise enough, no one is good enough, no one is righteousness enough, but thanks be to God through Jesus Christ! God gives us grace enough.
So…since we have grace, how much can we sin? Stop it! That’s the wrong question. We’ve been set free from the cycle of sin and death. Why would you want to jump back on that hamster wheel of doom?
The right questions can completely shift our understanding of the problem. The key question in Ecclesiastes chapter 7 is this: “Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what He has made crooked?” (7:13)
Solomon didn’t know the answer, but we do. The one who can straighten out what has been made crooked is Jesus.
The right question gets the right answer.