Education

Five days ago I graduated from college. Shortly after the ceremony, I went to a barbeque with many recent graduates and there ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in quite some time. She’s still in college and had spent the past semester studying abroad. It was our first conversation since her return. We began talking, moved past the usual greetings (“Oh my gosh! You’re graduated!” “Oh my gosh! You’re home from Africa!”) and started discussing what our life had consisted of for the past few months.

“Honestly,” she said, “after this semester, I just have a lot of questions.”

Later, we sat on the couch of my apartment and discussed the questions that’d been running through her head. As we did so, I felt a vague sense of familiarity sweep through me. Her questions sounded a lot like mine, and I was reminded that I still didn’t have the answers.

There are countless things I do not know, and never will proclaim to know. Nonetheless, I have a college degree, in English. While this may give me some validity, I want to share three dirty little secrets:

1) I constantly misspell words like definitely, restaurant, and Cincinnati (which, by the way, is where I grew up). There are laboratory chimpanzees that have proved to be better spellers than myself.

2) Despite being somewhat “well-read” I haven’t finished any Dostoyevsky and I spark noted my way through Paradise Lost…twice.

3) Lastly, some of my worst test grades ever came within my major, including this last semester when I received a 13/35 in my 17th century literature course. I don’t know math either, but I’m pretty sure that equates to about a 37%.

The point in all this is that the sum of my knowledge is dismal. I have to accept this. I have to accept that I am small, the world is large, and God is the epitome of knowledge around whom my meager existence rotates in a garbled assortment of questions. My professor of Christian Thought used to remind us: “You can know God, but you can never comprehend God.” And this is crucial. The reality of my questions, for me, brings to mind the reality of God’s existence. If my questions resulted in answers, then I could attain to the finitude of knowledge. But they don’t. Every question I have somehow leads to more questions. These questions have to have answers and if there are answers, then there must be a source of the answers. As long as I have questions, I will always believe in God.

When I graduated high school four years ago, I was pretty sure I had things figured out. Four years of higher education later, I found myself sitting at lunch today with my high school principal.

“Here’s the thing,” I told him, “I think that after years of college all I’ve learned is that I don’t know anything.”

He smiled, at me and laughed a little. “Good,” he said, “That tells me you’ve had an excellent education.”

The purpose of an education should never be to attain knowledge. The purpose of an education should be humility. Back in the 1600’s, John Milton (author of Paradise Lost the spark notes for which I highly recommend), set down what he viewed to be the premise of education. “The end…of learning,” he stated, “is to know God aright”. Knowing God aright demands humility; the questions prompted by my education ought to produce this humility. While I will never claim to have reached the epitome of humility (how’s that for an oxymoron?), the past four years have instilled a least a sense of it within me. But there’s plenty more to come, I’m sure.

So… how about graduate school…anyone?

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3 thoughts on “Education

  1. “As long as I have questions, I will always believe in God.” This seemed strange to me at first, given my experiences with agnostic friends who are much more comfortable with questions than answers but do not believe in God. The more I think about it, however, the more I agree with you. The times in my life when I’ve asked the most questions (major life changes, philosophy class, encountering other worldviews) have often been the times of most spiritual growth.

    The trick, of course, is keeping that humble and questioning attitude without falling into … well, agnosticism.

    Thanks for this post. And congratulations!

    P.S. Do you know what’s worse than spark noting an entire book? Procrastinating on reading the spark notes of a novel until the night before the assignment is due, and then realizing that the spark notes don’t even exist. All that’s left is to frantically scour book reviews on Amazon.com. Shameful, I know.

  2. Dirty Little Secrets:

    1) I can never spell Mediterranean. As a Biblical archaeology major, this is a rather important one.

    2) The only Dickens I have successfully finished is “Oliver Twist”

    3) I went and bought Erik Larson’s book on amazon right after you told me you got it in the mail cause I was so jealous…

    Keep up the great blogging, Bryn!

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