The Greatest Thing You’ll Ever Learn

Rembrandt’s “Apostle Paul in Prison”

It’s the last week of summer vacation! While some of you may feel bitter about such a thing, I was always excited about the beginning of school. I’d lay out my new clothes and shoes and backpack and school supplies, and I’d imagine seeing my friends as I anticipated the beginning of school.
By and large, our faith tradition has much praise for the pursuit of knowledge. The wisdom tradition is embedded in our scriptures with Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and portions of many other books of our Bible. Proverbs 4:7 is worded rather strangely in my opinion, but nonetheless gets the point across: “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get Wisdom. Though it costs all you have, get understanding.” I like this notion of “getting” understanding. How is that done? Is it as easy as when Lara asks me to go out to the garage and “get her purse out of the car?” No, Proverbs makes it clear that the ‘getting of wisdom” is a continual project. But what does it “cost” us? Those of you who are in the midst of sending a son or daughter to school (or those of you paying for higher education yourself) would probably immediately think of the tuition bills and the cost of housing. But I believe there is another cost associated with “getting understanding.” I’ve known ministers who have been critical of the decision to go to seminary. In some quarters of Christianity, there is a well nurtured anti-intellectualism that is evident. It seems that the cost of “getting understanding” to these folks who oppose seminary for ministers is our soul. I think, more truthfully, the cost of “getting understanding” is a sense of certainty we learn to be false and unfounded. “Getting understanding” happens by exposing ourselves to new ideas. New ideas don’t very often reaffirm all our existing ideas. So, I have no doubt that education seems threatening to some people who thrive on traditions and thought patterns handed down over generations. The questioning of dogma and tradition can feel and actually be costly.
In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul says, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge, but anyone who loves God is known by Him.” I think some people are not only threatened by education, but by the educated. Some folks undoubtedly feel disdain toward educated people because the educated are sometimes “puffed up” with their own knowledge. This is why we must approach “getting understanding” with the determination of all we have, but also with the humility that there is nothing we can come to know that will save us from ourselves. What ultimately counts is not how much we know, but how much we are known.
As Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor sing to each other in Moulin Rouge! “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” This is indeed the ultimate education, and I really like that the notion of “being loved in return” requires education on our part as well. Many sermons have been written on “learning to love more like Jesus,” and that is important—but sometimes we have just as much (or more) difficulty learning to “be loved in return.” We buck against it, we test it and push at the “boundaries” we may think exist. But, with Christ that love “knows no boundaries.” It surrounds us and infuses us and “will not let us go.” So—Get Wisdom—and at the limits of our understanding, may we continue on in the Love of Christ.