Scrolling through Facebook last week, I stumbled on a meme that I just can’t shake. It was an enchanting image of night overtaking day. Gossamer cloud cover. Sapphire sky fading into the deep darkness of the stratosphere. It was all there. And against the splendor of the firmament was the bold proclamation:
For anyone who despises the mere existence of math, who’s experienced the discombobulating woes of the value of x or y, there is a certain satisfaction in this statement. You knew, despite their insistence to the contrary, there was no way you’d be using these laborious equations and silly things like FOIL (First, Outer, Inner, Last) in everyday life. You knew it. And now that the internet exists, you can make sure those hardworking, socially-awkward mathematicians know it, too. Thank God for the internet. Thank God for memes.
When it comes to education and learning, we’ve all experienced those “useless” educational moments (and we still do), sitting in some dull lecture or monotone presentation or stuffy classroom or wayward Adult Sunday School session. We think to ourselves, “This will not be of any benefit to my real life whatsoever. Now, someone pass me a sharp Number 2 pencil so I can jam it in my eyeball?” I, myself, remember wasting countless weeks learning about Charlemagne (whom I will call ‘King Karl’ because no one deserves a name as beautiful or as fun to say as ‘Charlemagne’) and the Carolingian Empire. I could not fathom how knowing anything about this man and his empire would be of any value to me at all. Ever. It wouldn’t even make for good small talk at parties. And if it ever did, I knew those were parties I never wanted to attend. In fact, until the writing of this post, I’ve never mentioned or referenced King Karl in anything I’ve ever done. Not once. For over 15 years, that guy has been clunking around in the already-limited space of my brain for no apparent or useful reason.
SIDENOTE: The irony of it all is that King Karl, and his Carolingian Renaissance, is one of the reasons we even have liberal arts education today.
Of course, deep down we know that knowledge of the world–history, science, math, and how things work–are important, necessary, and worthy endeavors. They not only helps us survive, but THRIVE. There is something we easily forget, though, in these mind-filling, and sometimes mind-numbing, pursuits here in exile. Our delight in “not using Algebra once” tells me so.
So what is knowledge actually all about? What is it? What’s it for?
Consider John 1:1-3 (with emphasis added):
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.“
According to John, all that exists–everything that “is”–came into being THROUGH the Word, through Jesus. All of creation speaks of him. His divine DNA is present everywhere. Therefore, knowledge can never, EVER, be a “thing.” Far from it. No, knowledge is a PERSON–Christ. It’s purpose is to reveal HIM: his majesty, his infinite creativity, his power, his abundance, his grace. Quoting Gerard Manley Hopkins, Stephen Grabill lays it out in Episode 5, The Economy of Wisdom:
“This world then is word, expression, news, of God. Therefore it’s end, its purpose, its purport, its meaning, is God, and its life or work to name and praise him.”
So, let us remember this week, let us remind our children, our students, OURSELVES that when we set our minds to learning about the things of the world, we are entering into far more than just a MEANS to good grades and good jobs and jobs well done. When we learn, we are entering into a RELATIONSHIP with Almighty God. This, friends and strangers, can change everything about how we learn, and what we know of our Creator.
With this new perspective, maybe we will start comprehend the scandalous grace of God, who reveals himself not only through his creation, but WITH and THROUGH all people, of all colors and creeds, through all of time, with one purpose: that all of humanity may know, “name and praise him.”
So, from here on out, let us go out seeking knowledge and learning our little heads off, not only for what it can do for us, but because we desire to know our Savior more fully, more deeply. Because we long for a deeper, more meaningful, more intimate relationship with the Creator of Everything. If we seek, I know we find.
PS – If you’re looking to learn some really cool stuff from different perspectives, I highly recommend listening to the RadioLab podcast. Full disclosure: the style and tone of RadioLab was a big influencer of FLOW. All of us here love it.
The hosts, Jab Abumrad and Robert Krulwich (neither of whom are religious. Robert is agnostic, I think), have a desire to “know”, a love for the world and how it works, that I believe profoundly reveals the mind and wonder of God. Discernment, as always, is required, but I think you’ll love it. That’s my hope, anyway…that you’ll see God in their masterful work. Give them a listen on your next commute or when you’re doing the dishes.
Here are some of my favorite episodes:
The Good Show: In this episode, a question that haunted Charles Darwin: if natural selection boils down to survival of the fittest, how do you explain why one creature might stick its neck out for another?
Inheritance: Once a kid is born, their genetic fate is pretty much sealed. Or is it? This hour, we put nature and nurture on a collision course and discover how outside forces can find a way inside us, shaping not just our hearts and minds, but the basic biological blueprint that we pass on to future generations.
A Four-Track Mind: In this short, a neurologist issues a dare to a ragtime piano player and a famous conductor. When the two men face off in an fMRI machine, the challenge is so unimaginably difficult that one man instantly gives up. But the other achieves a musical feat that ought to be impossible.