Some Thoughts on Learning {For when you don’t feel good enough}

There’s nothing like a little intellectual working over to put things in perspective.

The class I’m taking, “Jonathan Edwards and C.S. Lewis,” is pretty much killing brain cells. I’m being dramatic, but I leave that class every single time feeling like I’ve been inhaling things that should only be sprayed in large open areas.

This class was presented as a Church History class and I suppose technically it is because George Marsden is teaching it, but it would appear that it is bored with history and would rather dress up and pretend play with theology and philosophy. The theology I can usually hang with; the philosophy…please, call me an ambulance!

And worst of all, this highly interactive class makes me wonder who is really the impostor. While my classmates are making words like “panantheism,” “enlightenment,” and “Inter-Trinitarian love,” sound like a kindergarten spelling list, my thoughts are racing, “Oh dear, where’s the door?” “How do you spell that word he just said?” “Juxtaposition! I know that word!” What I’m really wondering is why did they allow me into this class…this program…this school? They must think I am someone different than I am.

Three straight hours of talking about Edwards’ concept of “Divine Light” and I’ve not had one shred of an illuminated mind. I get in the car, head hanging low from the weight of too much thinking and the shame of too little understanding. My phone rings and it’s the husband, “How was class?” What a loaded question. My only answer, “I’m definitely not getting an ‘A’ in the class.”

I can’t shake the discouragement of feeling dumb and inadequate. Since when did not knowing something or not being the best/brightest/most beautiful leave me feeling discouraged? I’ve spent my life mastering in clearing confusion from my mental cobwebs and relishing any underdog position. Why? Because I’ve considered it a great gift to learn and grow…and if you already know it all and are always at the top of every totem there’s nowhere to go…except for down.

I may never fully understand the Edwardian concept of illumination, but I have experienced what King David describes in Psalm 19 when he says, “The instruction of the Lord is perfect, renewing one’s life; the testimony of the Lord is trustworthy, making the inexperienced wise. The precepts of the Lord are right, making the heart glad; the command of the Lord is radiant, making the eyes light up.” He goes on to say that they are more desirable than gold and sweeter than honey (and if you’ve read Edwards, then you know that he loved to talk of the sweetness of honey as a means of conveying understanding of God’s beauty, goodness and truth).

Isn’t this the true task of the seminarian thinker? Is it not our task to seek God in such a way that the truths He has spoken about Himself penetrate not only our minds but our hearts in such a way that the glad overflow of our understanding results in others saying, “Can I have a taste of that honey?”

Last night I watched “The Job.” For those unfamiliar with the show, it is a reality show where applicants apply for a job and are interviewed, eliminated, with one person being offered a position at a prestigious company. Last night’s job opportunity was for an editing assistant job at Cosmopolitan Magazine. Personally, it seemed like a rather humiliating way to get a job.

However, I was fascinated by two of the interview “tests.” In the first, applicants were shown a picture of the cover of Cosmopolitan and were required to quickly (and I mean really quickly) detect the error. This was not a spelling error–it was an error that went against the culture of Cosmopolitan. In the second, applicants were asked three questions about pop culture for which they were required to answer correctly. Both of these tests were hard, nearly impossible for me. I’m not a reader of Cosmopolitan and pop culture intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually confounds me. The point of these two tests were to reveal how much the applicants understood the mission of Cosmopolitan. If they didn’t understand it, they wouldn’t be able to promote it, invest in it, and guard it through their daily work.

For the applicants, the interview was all about them–what they knew, what they could contribute, how they could benefit. For the magazine, it was all about their being true and disciplined to their mission as an organization.

Staying true and disciplined to the mission of the Church (as it is set out in Scripture) is something that can be easily lost…even in seminary…or in ministry. We can make it all about us…and forget that the mission is to make it all about God…and what He knows, and what He can contribute, and how He can benefit from our being “radiant” with the knowledge of His incredible beauty, truth and love.

I have a new perspective about this class. I entered with such a deficit of knowledge that I see I have such an incredible opportunity to fill the intellectual bank with many “lucky” pennies. However, none of them will compare with what God will teach me about Himself in His Word. In his classroom, I am never dumb or inadequate. Yes, the text of Psalm 19 reminds me I am inexperienced, but he will make me wise. In his classroom, it is not what I already know…it is what he is teaching me. Indeed, it is a great gift to learn and grow…even if you don’t get an ‘A.’

In the end, it is all about focus. Will I focus on me (and all my shortcomings and inadequacies) or on God. In fact, it may be a humiliating process, but I’m recalling that Edwards determined that the Scriptures combined with humility were the pathway to seeing God correctly. I guess I’ll be okay then.

I write this because I suspect there are areas in each of our lives where we feel inadequate for the task at hand. Marriage, parenting, friendship, ministry, work–wherever it is that life takes you day in and day out–are difficult places, fraught with fears that we will not measure up and will fail. The comfort I have received from Psalm 19 is that God sees our inadequate, inexperienced places and He meets them with His wisdom. We provide the humility of realizing what an idiot we will make of ourselves without His help; He will supply the wisdom we need to renew our lives and keep us on mission with His purposes. In all the places where failure seems imminent, seek God. Seek and find sweet honey.

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