I was invited to give a talk on education for the National Day of Prayer at Highland Mills United Methodist Church (NY) yesterday. Here is what I said:
And Jesus said to the religious establishment “Seek the truth and the truth will set you free.” But they all, to a man, responded, “We have never been slaves so how can we be free?” To which Jesus replied, “You are slaves to sin and death.”
While no sin is greater or less than any other sin, I think one of the worst sins is that of ignorance. Ignorance of things can lead to harm and even death; it is one of the reasons that I insisted that each student who did lab work in my class complete a pre-lab questionnaire for that particular lab. In this way, I could insure that they had at least given a cursory glance to what was happening that day.
But ignorance in the lab is only one type of death. At the end of Matthew 25, we hear the people cry, “When did we see you naked or cold or hungry?” There is also the ignorance of vision, of not seeing that which is in front of you or perhaps choosing not to see what is in front of you.
John Wesley saw the conditions around him and vowed to make a change. One of those changes was the establishment of a Sunday School so that the children of his charge (and perhaps even their parents) would be able to learn how to read and write and be better able to study the Bible. Wesley also insisted that the circuit riders spend time studying the Bible; of course, what better time is there to study the Bible except when you are riding a horse from one point on the circuit to the next?
We have come to know education as a liberating force, of providing the means to set people free. What was it that Benjamin Franklin said so many years ago, “A nation can be ignorant or it can be free; it cannot be both”? And one of the demises of slavery in this country in the 19th century was allowing slaves to learn how to read and write.
What else were the slaves in the south supposed to think when they read the story of Moses and the children of Israel escaping slavery and bondage in Egypt? Why else would the flight north be called the 2nd Exodus?
Education should be almost second nature to us. We are by nature inquisitive and curious creatures. It is that curiosity that separates us from other animals on this planet. From the very day we began life on this planet we have been driven to understand what is on this planet, why we are on this planet, and what lies beyond the boundaries of the next corner or even beyond the veil of stars.
Sadly, we do more to destroy that curiosity than we do instill, create and nurture it. And that would seem solely out of character with who we are.
In the first chapter of Genesis, the writers note that we were created in the image of God. We are not copies of God for copies have no substance or being. You can copy a dollar bill but try spending that copy and see what happens. If all we were is a copy, then there would be no purpose to our lives. We would perhaps do nothing more than get up in the morning, go to work or school, and come home at night. Our lives would be pre-ordained and when we are done with our lives then that would be it.
As Paul so often pointed out, what then is the purpose of having Christ in our lives?
If we are created in the image of God, we have been created in the image of the most dynamic and creative being ever. And we should be using our God-given abilities, pushing them to the limit each day.
All we need do is look at what Adam was asked or told to do in Genesis 2. He was to identify and name each of the animals and plants that God had created. In other words, Adam was the first botanist, the first zoologist, the first biologist. In asking/telling Adam to take care of this world, Adam became the first environmentalist.
It is something that we have been doing ever since. Mankind has looked to the stars in wonder and amazement and asked why? We have explored the world around us and asked why?
We think of Isaac Newton as the great mathematician and physicist but we are not likely to know that he was just as much a theologian as he was a mathematician and physicist. His writings on the Bible and prophecy are as numerous as his other works. And he sought to understand things like optics and gravitational forces so that he could better understand the workings of God. He always understood that God created the universe; Newton wanted to know why and how He had created it.
In delving into the life of Newton I discovered that he was also an alchemist. We put a mystical twist on alchemy, making it more magic than science. But for Newton and his contemporary, Robert Boyle, alchemy was a means to discovering the nature of things.
As I have written before (“A Dialogue of Science and Faith”),
Boyle believed wholeheartedly in the existence of a supernatural realm, a world in which humankind had little experience. For him, alchemy was the link between the two worlds; a link that might provide evidence of God’s existence.
For Boyle, alchemy was a gift from God that, along with chemistry, offered a path to the truth. He was hostile to views of nature that did not demonstrate a proper understanding or appreciation of God’s power in the world. And while he was a devout Christian, he despised taking oaths. His refusal to take holy orders prevented him from becoming the provost of Eton and he would decline the offer to serve as the President of The Royal Society because of the oath he would have had to take.
And while there are those who rejoice in hearing that Newton and Boyle were Christians, it should also be pointed out that neither man held to the orthodox view of Christ. As note, Boyle would not take an oath, a stand that prevented him from receiving several honors. Newton refused to take holy orders following the completion of his bachelors and masters degrees and the only thing that allowed him to take what is now called the “Lucasian Chair of Physics” was a dispensation from the King of England.
Similarly, one of the discoverers of oxygen, Joseph Priestley, was also as much a man of religion as he was a man of science. But his religious beliefs put him outside the main stream of religious orthodoxy and effectively denied him the opportunity to attend the better known universities of England. His writings in the area of the Trinity, which he felt the Bible did not support, ultimately lead to a mob attacking and destroying his home and possessions and causing him to flee to America where, among other things, he founded the Unitarian Church.
There is a creative tension in play when you look at the works of Newton, Boyle, and Priestley. You see, the curiosity of each individual causes them to seek answers to questions about how things work. And from those answers come new questions. It is the same with all of us. As we seek answers more questions come; it is part of the process, it is part of the liberation.
There are those who seek to find the “heart” of matter, the simplest particle, the particle that Democritus called the atom. To find this particle, to understand how things were created is perhaps one of the ultimate questions of science. But in answering that question, we are still left with some other fundamental questions, questions that cannot be answered by science. Why was there a big bang? For what purpose did it happen? These questions can never be answered with a search into the realm of matter and mathematics.
And ask yourself this question, why was the Bible written? This is not about who wrote or how they wrote it but rather why it was written. Somehow I envision a group of people sitting around a fire at night somewhere in the Negev and some of the younger people asking the elders to explain not only why they are wandering in the desert but why are they there in the first place? And from these stories, from gazing into the skies at the vastness of outer space, the elders told a story. It was never meant to be the complete story for even the elders did not know that.
Rather, it was meant to begin the process, the process of learning who we are and why we are here. It was a process that was meant to be an on-going, continuous process. What was it that Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “when I was a child, I thought, spoke and acted like a child, but when I grew up I gave away my childish ways”? If we continue to see the world through a child’s eyes, we only see part of the world.
A child will ask why. Why is the sky blue? Why is there air? But sooner or later, they will ask the questions that we do not like to answer. Why is grandma or grandpa in heaven? Why must I go off to war? Why can’t my friends come to our church?
God created us to ask questions; education gives us the ability to answer them. There are those, of course, who would be quite happy if we only saw part of the world. For that would mean that they could tell us what is out there and how fearful and frightening that world is. They can create rules and regulations that dictate how we lead our lives. And this is the world that Jesus sought to change.
How many times did the people call Him Teacher? How many times did He teach the people? And how many times did those who opposed His teachings not understand what it was that the parables were about?
In the Book of Proverbs, it is written that “without a vision, the people perish.” Education offers that vision. And as children of God, children created in His Image, we have been given the ability and the power to see those visions. In Joel, we read that with the Holy Spirit, the old will have dreams and the young will have visions. But these cannot happen without education, an education that pushes the boundaries.
Do we push for an education that pushes the boundaries, that offers the opportunity for new visions? On this national day of prayer, I would hope that we see education in those terms and that we seek to find ways to help all the people learn about this world and how we are a part of God’s Kingdom. I hope and pray this day that you will take this opportunity to seek new ways of learning, of finding out where Christ is in your life, and how to use that knowledge in the ways that God would want them used.