This post first appeared as a Classical Conversations Connected guest article.
How could men be reasonable beings if they had no knowledge of the Word and Reason of the Father, through Whom they had received their being? (St Athanasius)
The Mysterious Heart of Education
I am not too bright and frequently I must remind myself that at the heart of education is a great mystery. That mystery is God. We live in a world created by God. We are creatures of God’s imagination. Our rationality comes from God. The longings of our hearts are put there by God. Both our desires and our capabilities to teach and to be taught originate from God. And yet, God is a mystery. We cannot know God unless He reveals Himself to us, and even then, we will always remain incapable of knowing God in His essence. He is wonderful and good, He is faithful and sovereign, but He is also transcendent and we are not. Still, God has made us to know Him and to enjoy Him. Praise be to God that in poignant and substantial ways He has made Himself known to us. To know and enjoy God is, or should be, our foundation as educators. I see at least four reasons this is true:
- We bear the image of God
- The Incarnation
- The Resurrection
- To be fully human is to know and enjoy God.
I must say before venturing forth, that I am no theologian or philosopher. I am just a homeschooling dad trying to remember why we are homeschooling.
Reason One: We bear the image of God
The fact that we bear the image of God says a lot about us, and a lot about God. Consider why God placed His image in us. We may never fully comprehend the reason, but we can surmise that He gave us His image as a gift, and part of the gift is that we know Him by understanding ourselves. Consider also how fascinating human beings are. We humans are obsessed with our existence, and some of that obsession is healthy. If there is nothing and no one more fascinating than God, then certainly we, who bear His image, deserve some attention. Through our “imageness” God tells us something about who He is. If this is foundational to who we are, then it is foundational to what we are about and how we should live, and if this is true then it is foundational in our teaching and our learning. Education becomes an important way we know and enjoy God. Everything we do in the name of education should be animated with this fact.
Reason Two: The Incarnation
God has put Himself into creation. Though creation is separate from God, all of creation is infused with God’s will and design. Creation speaks to us of God; it tells us who He is. But then, miraculously and mysteriously, God himself entered into His creation as a man; God became man. I am no expert on incarnational theology, but we know that Christ is the true image of God to us. This says a lot about God’s valuation of man. It also says a lot about how much God desires that we come to know Him. Just as we are image bearers of God’s image, Christ is the ultimate image, the most clear, the most precise icon of God. The story of the world is the story of God and of man, and the central “character” of the story is the God/man Christ. Consider how important this is to how and why we educate our children (and ourselves). God is calling us to Him, to know Him, and to understand ourselves in light of His glory. If our education is not first and foremost animated by this fact then we are on the wrong track. I will not lie, I frequently forget this.
And let us not forget that Christ came to die. God shows us His glory in Christ, and characteristic of that glory is humility and service, even to the point of death. We are to take up our crosses, even as parents and educators. Contemplate this profound reality as you contemplate teaching.
As an aside, consider what the Incarnation tells us about God’s method of educating man. Christ is not a lecture, or a list of facts, or merely some knowledge to stick in one’s brain. God teaches us by giving us a living, fully human, corporeal example (I don’t know how else to put it) of Himself and asks us to behold, to follow, to contemplate, to imitate.
Reason Three: The Resurrection
Education cannot exist without hope. The resurrection of Christ is the basis of our hope. But consider this, the resurrected Christ is still a man. We are not going to be saved from our humanness; God is committed to man as man. We shall be transformed, made glorious, and become complete, but we shall still be human beings bearing the image of God. Thus God is committed to His image being carried throughout creation, and throughout eternity, in us. The Resurrection is the great capstone on the idea that we are made to know and enjoy God. The Resurrection is also the opposite of nihilism. Modern man lives under the burden of nihilism regardless whether he admits it or not. But Christ, risen to glory, is the great exclamation point affirming life, the goodness of creation, and the beauty of man. Education only makes sense in a world with true glory.
Reason Four: To be fully human
That we bear the image of God, that God became man, and that Christ rose from the grave are amazing truths that say a great deal about our humaness. All of us are human, true, but none of us are yet complete. The promise of our humanity is yet to be fulfilled. Christ is our example. The fact of man is important, true; the Oxford professor John Lennox said, “Human beings are so created that God could become one.” However, today we bear the image of God more like a shadow than a substance. We have all the marks but not yet fullness of glory. Let us seek that glory by conforming our lives to Christ. Let us seek to be fully human. An education that does not point to becoming fully human is hollow. Honesty impels us to admit that only with a view to the fully human, to the complete man, can true education even exist.
It must be said that each of the four reasons have, at their core, an incarnational foundation. Each represent an extension of God into His creation, of making Himself known, and of teaching us about Him. Thus education is, in a profoundly mysterious way, incarnational because it relies upon, and points to, the God of and in creation.
I have argued that at the heart of teaching and learning are at least four truths. They are: God placed His image in Man and thus we bear the image of God; God incarnated Himself within His creation; the Resurrection of Christ; and finally, man can only become fully human by knowing and enjoying God. And yet, are these truths commonly held? Do we find these four truths at the heart of public education policy today? Are they constituent to the national education debates, or even in the discussions of your local school board? Tragically the answer is no. As a homeschooler, however, they can be at the core. Not only that, but because they are at the core we can be sure educating our children is neither hopeless vanity nor merely pragmatic survival. Learning math or history or a language is not only practically good, it is substantially good because math and history and languages create soulful links with our Creator, our Lord, and our true selves.
How will this look in our various and unique homeschooling contexts? That also is a mystery. Education, like life, is a wondrous and, sometimes, a very difficult muddling through, but it is a muddling in light of great truths. Sometimes we must remind ourselves, especially when we are mired in the complexity of curricula and scheduling and insecurities, that there is a great mystery, a simple, incomplex stillpoint, at the heart of it all. That stillpoint is God.
Finally, consider this quote from G. K. Chesteron:
“There was a time when you and I and all of us were all very close to God; so that even now the colour of a pebble (or a paint), the smell of a flower (or a firework), comes to our hearts with a kind of authority and certainty; as if they were fragments of a muddled message, or features of a forgotten face. To pour that fiery simplicity upon the whole of life is the only real aim of education….”
I pray we all educate in light of God’s wondrous, mysterious, and incarnational glory. I pray we all seek and find that “fiery simplicity.”