Posted: 8/22/15 at 8:00am. Column by Ed Jordan.
All across America and Europe schools are about to open a new year of classes. Students from preschool to graduate school are getting prepared for a new year of learning. For some it is a time of anxiety, for some it is something in which they begrudgingly participate, and some cannot wait to see what new things they will discover and learn.
The truth is that for those who realize that there is yet a lot to be learned, learning becomes a profitable endeavor. For those who think they already know all that there is to learn, school will become a useless endeavor.
This last week I was reading some writings of G.K. Chesterton, which were discussing the role of humility in one’s ability to learn. He made some interesting points.
“Until we realize that things might not be, we cannot realize that things are… Until we picture nonentity we underrate the victory of God… Until we see the background of darkness we cannot admire the light as a single and created thing. As soon as we have seen that darkness, all light is lightening, sun-blinding, and divine.” (A Year with G.K. Chesterton, Kevin Belmonte, Editor, pp. 238-239).
Put another way, it is not until we realize the harsh reality of nonexistence, that we can appreciate the value of creation and life. The positive aspects of creation and life are appreciated all the more once we have been burned by an experience with the negative. For example it is not until we in some significant way experience living with perpetual pain (like a bad knee or hip joint), that we appreciate and long for a life without pain.
When we have a personal experience with death, let’s say by encountering the death of a loved one, then we suddenly have a much higher value for life, and a greater appreciation of living. Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross once said: “We never really learn to live, until we first learn to die.”
Until we confront the finiteness and reality of our human mortality, we can never truly value our daily mortal life, nor the treasure of eternal life. Once we face the fact that we too have limited time in this earthly body, then we wish to treasure each encounter, each sunrise or sunset, each floral fragrance, or the wisp of a cool and gentle breeze. Once we know that our loved ones will one day depart from us, or us from them, we suddenly value as priceless the times we have together.
But if we live in denial of the negative, we do not appreciate the positive. If we take for granted that what we see will always be here to enjoy be that friends and family, or school, or church, or eyesight, etc., then we do not value what we have as we should.
In regards to humility being necessary to becoming teachable, Chesterton said: “It is one of the million wild jests of truth, that we know nothing until we know nothing.”
If we want to know something, we must acknowledge that we don’t already know it. Paul said, “Knowledge puffs up, while love builds up” (cf. 1 Cor. 8:1). People who really know their subject, realize that there is so much more about their subject that they do not know, and by comparison they feel that they really know nothing about their subject.
Those who think they know all there is to know about God, or life, really don’t know much about God or life. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 8:2 “If anyone supposes he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know.” Or as the New Living Translation says: “Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much.”
The beginning of wisdom is to reverence God, acknowledging that as much as we know is pretty well nothing in comparison to the knowledge and wisdom of God. When we come to God admitting our cup is empty, He will fill it. When we approach a learning opportunity with humility, knowing that we never know a subject like we need to know it, we will always learn something fresh and new to us.
As you approach new learning experiences this year, approach them humbly and with an awareness that you have a lot to learn. If you do, you will learn a lot.