Even Accomplished Scholars: A Teacher’s Thoughts on the Limits of Education

My Dear Students, 

After eight posts which emphasize the importance of education, I find it a fitting time to temper my enthusiasm for education by saying this: it is better to be uneducated and love God than to be an accomplished scholar and despise wisdom.

Of course, uneducated people can certainly despise wisdom, and educated people can certainly love God; however, I emphasize that it is better to be uneducated than to despise wisdom in order to point out that education is not the highest good or the most important goal in life. What is more, education is not the only path to wisdom.

Therefore, again, I say confidently that to love wisdom but have little education is much better than to have gained all the degrees in the word and hate wisdom.

Education Is Not the Highest Good

Here is something beautiful: Though education is good, God is much greater–and He comes to us no matter how much knowledge we have. 

It is true that God is honored by good education, that we can learn about God through true education, and that laziness and apathy are not pleasing to the Lord–but it is also true that God does not require us to be educated to serve Him. Virtue is not the exclusive domain of the educated! Moreover, most certainly, those with learning AND those without learning can have faith in God and be saved, and God is pleased with all those who believe in Him because when He looks at us He sees Christ. No learning or self-improvement can change God’s estimation of us.

Therefore, it is important that we do not overstate the importance of education. 

(Those of my readers who dislike school might think that overstating the importance of education would be difficult to do, but I assure you that there are many educators and even students who, consciously or subconsciously, believe that they are engaged in the most important activity known to humankind–and there are some even who believe that through education, they can save the world. Though you, reader, may not share these views, you may encounter others who do, in fact, habitually overstate the importance of education.) 

Therefore, I will now highlight four truths that may help us keep from overemphasizing education. 

There Are Other Ways to Gain Wisdom

First, we should recognize that academic learning is not the only way to grow in wisdom and virtue.  We can learn discipline from our parents. Mistakes that we have made can teach us how to behave more wisely in the future. Our friends can help us learn how to be kind and patient, and our pastors instruct us on what it means to follow God. God’s Word itself teaches us truth–and even if we cannot read, Scripture can be spoken to us! It is thus abundantly evident that wisdom is not the exclusive possession of the educated.

Faith Does Not Require a Degree

Second, we should recognize that there are many ways to serve the Lord and that not all involve education. Learning is a way to serve the Lord, and jobs that require academic training are ways to serve the Lord. However, we can also serve the Lord when we put in our best effort on an assignment, even if we fail it. Simply loving truth can honor God, even if we do not understand complicated theorems or histories. We can serve the Lord each day by helping our neighbors, fulfilling our responsibilities, and doing our jobs. Moreover, our jobs do not have to be degree-required jobs for us to do them to the best of our abilities to the glory of God.

Learning Can Lead to Folly

Third, we should recognize that schoolwork and academic learning do not automatically lead to wisdom. We can study all kinds of true things, but our sinful nature may cause us to reject the truth that we study. We can collect all kinds of facts, but without loving what is good, we can misuse the information that we gain. What is more, it seems to be natural to human pride that the more knowledge we gain and the quicker our minds, the more we tend to keep our eyes on ourselves and on our own accomplishments instead of on Christ. Sometimes we become inflated with our own knowledge and forget that our endeavors ought to serve God, who Himself is Truth. 

Education Does Not Remove Sin

Fourth, we should recognize that the knowledge that we gain from education will not keep us from sinning. Even the person who knows how to be virtuous will fall to temptations daily; even Solomon in all his wisdom sinned grievously. No amount of learning will ever do away with sin. If learning had such power, we would never hear of priests who took advantage of children; we would never hear of college professors who threw everything away for a moment of pleasure; we would never hear of highly educated politicians growing soulless and tyrannical in their power. Thus, being “educated” in the academic sense of the word is not equivalent with following God.

Diligence and Truth 

Before I close, I must add one caveat. Looking for a way out of what we are supposed to be doing is part of our fallen nature, and we may be tempted to use this post as an excuse to be lazy in school or to hate learning. “Learning isn’t the highest good–Mrs. Norris said so. So I don’t have to do my homework,” we might say. However, to say this would be to pervert the truth, and we should take care not to do so. Saying that education is not the greatest good is not the same as saying that it is not worth our time. (Read my previous 8 posts.)  

Let us therefore be diligent: God wants us to learn about Him and His world. Let us also be humble: education and intelligence are not the greatest things, for He Who is most glorious and wise is much greater.