Back to school: Education to the glory of GodWritten by Subby Szterszky
What's inside this article
The end of summer is a time of transitions, not least for students heading back to school or off to university. It may bring feelings of anticipation as well as trepidation, most likely a mix of both. Another year of sitting in classrooms, poring over books, connecting with friends old and new, taking the next few steps toward independent adulthood.
For most students (as well as for their parents), the overarching goal of education is to secure a rewarding and successful career in the field of their choice.
However, for students of any age who are also followers of Jesus, their education is a gateway to far more than that. The subjects they study, the critical skills they hone, the relationships they build, the social conscience they refine, all of it points to the wisdom of their Creator and the goodness of his creation. It prepares them to better reflect the image of God to the world in which they live.
In short, their education is a means for glorifying God that will reverberate into their adult years and throughout the rest of their lives.
The queen of all subjects
Christians invented the university during the medieval era as a place to create and share knowledge. They did this because they believed that since God was rational and free, his created order could and should be studied. Their guiding principle was expressed in the phrase, “theology is the queen of the sciences.” By sciences, they meant every subject and field of knowledge, each of which could be best understood only in light of God’s revelation.
Such a concept may seem bizarre to modern minds. In fact, the underlying assumption of secularism is that religious faith is a product of ignorance and superstition, and only education can break those bonds and free people to be rational thinkers. The more we understand, they claim, the less reason we have to believe in God.
That assumption, however, flies in the face of logic and experience. A long list of great minds in history pursued their area of study because of their belief in God, not in spite of it. At present, there are world-class scholars at major universities who are also women and men of faith. Many of them are leaders in their field doing cutting-edge research to the glory of God. Contrary to popular opinion, the more these scholars discover, the more they see the wisdom and beauty of God through his creation.
Every student has their favourite and least favourite subjects, their particular areas of talent and interest. Not everyone is called to pursue a formal study of theology. But for students of faith, every area of learning can and should be viewed through the lens of biblical truth.
The STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) offer a portal to the wonders of the universe, the power and patterns that underlie it and the keys to harnessing its resources for the benefit of all. The social sciences reveal the sovereign workings of God through human history and the diversity of cultures and individuals made in God’s image. The creative arts provide an outlet for making and enjoying aesthetic beauty that reflects the creativity of our Maker. Medicine and athletics draw attention to the fact that our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made.
Viewed in this way, every field of study points to God, the source of all knowledge. Whatever our skills and interests, every subject has the potential to create a wider appreciation of God’s glory, and in turn, a deeper enjoyment of what we’re studying.
Learning for the good of the city
In today’s technical, highly specialized job market, it’s understandable for students to pursue education chiefly as a means to a stable professional future for themselves and their potential families. But historically that has never been the only – or even at times the primary – reason for an education.
As with the creation of the university, Christians were at the forefront of public education, initially to foster literacy so that people could read and understand the Scriptures in their own language. The following centuries saw the development of a liberal arts education, through which young people might gain a rounded understanding of the world in which they lived. This was seen as both a social and a personal responsibility to be better informed, to develop one’s mind and to be of greater use to society.
Then as now, these educational goals are even more concrete for students who follow Jesus. God calls his followers to seek the welfare of their city (their community, their world) and to pray for it (Jeremiah 29:7). This entails knowing and caring about that city, that community and that world. It requires engaging the ideas of the culture and the people who hold them with intelligence and respect.
The Lord also calls his people to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with their God (Micah 6:8). This is not just a matter of book learning but of social engagement, and it’s not restricted to Bible studies and Sunday school. Education offers an avenue for socialization, for learning to interact with new people and different ideas, for honing social skills, social awareness and social conscience. It helps prepare students of faith to see the image of God in their fellow humans and to treat them accordingly.
Loving God with all four faculties
It has become customary to reduce education to a process of acquiring knowledge, especially in today’s climate of specialization. Learn a body of facts and skills, and you’ll come out the other end as an employable person in an attractive and lucrative profession.
That’s an oversimplification, to be sure, while at the same time not being without merit. But it’s also the essence of a dream entertained by many students as well as their parents. Even so, it betrays a one-dimensional view of education and of human potential.
According to Jesus, the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). In other words, all of our faculties are to be engaging in a holistic love of the Lord.
Loving God with all of our mind, however, involves far more than just learning a few facts about him, or memorizing a few verses to lay on people who disagree with us. And the same principle holds true of education. Men and women of faith are to be lifelong students of God and his creation. We are designed to discover his truth in every area of knowledge, to savour it, make connections within it and delight in it. We’re meant to think critically, to distinguish truth from error, whether theological, scientific, historical or philosophical. Education at its best gives us the tools to do that.
But education is not just about developing the mind. Loving God with all of our being means to love him with our emotions, our bodies, our imagination. Art, music, literature and athletics aren’t just optional add-ons to a modern education. They’re integral to who we are as God’s image bearers – heart, soul, strength and mind.
Excellence, wonder and worship
God loves unity expressed through diversity. He’s woven it into his entire cosmos, and most especially into his human creation, women and men of every tribe, talent and culture, each one made in his image.
God also loves excellence. He declared his whole creation to be very good, and every diverse part of it declares his glory in its own way. Once again, this is especially true of humans. With our different backgrounds, personalities, skills and interests, each of us is designed to reflect God’s glory.
For students who know the Lord, whatever their age, education is a gateway for developing every facet of their diverse, image-bearing selves to its full potential. Each one has different talents and interests, and resonates with different facets of God’s created order. They may find beauty and inspiration in words, images, sounds, formulas, numbers or physical activity. But in each case, they have a calling to pursue excellence in their chosen path, to reflect the excellence of their Maker and to feel his pleasure in doing so.
Beyond all of that, for followers of Jesus, their education is a portal for seeing God behind his handiwork. The more they study their chosen area of God’s creation and thrill to its discoveries, the more they think and dream and resonate with it, the more they’ll appreciate God’s wisdom, beauty and majesty.
Contrary to secular belief, education doesn’t drive people away from God. Only indoctrination from a secular perspective can do that. Rather, the more we learn about the universe and about our place in it, the more we’re driven to wonder and to worship the God who is the source of all things.
This growing sense of wonder and worship in the face of God’s creation is one of the great privileges and joys of life. It should by no means be limited to our formal years of schooling. As the Christians who established the first universities understood, education is a lifelong journey of discovery, of delighting in God’s works and in his glory until we see him face-to-face and enjoy him forever.
Subby Szterszky is the managing editor of Focus on Faith and Culture, an e-newsletter produced by Focus on the Family Canada.
© 2021 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.
If you liked this article and would like to go deeper, we have some helpful resources below.Our recommended resources
Free advice on marriage, parenting and Christian living delivered straight to your inbox