Ever look forward to a moment only to realize the moment isn’t what you thought it would be?
May of 1999. The night of my graduation from Phoenix Seminary. I’d begun this journey in 1994. No one ever gave me a good explanation as to why a Master of Divinity degree was so long. A 94-hour master’s program. That’s longer than some doctoral degrees. Dr. Steve Tracy gave me the best answer of all the unsatisfactory ones I received. He said to view it as a double masters degree; one scholarly and academic for the head knowledge. The other as vocational, to show you how to do ministry with all you learned.
At the end of it all, I totaled up what went into obtaining all that learning:
Working 1 full-time job
Working 3 part-time jobs
94 semester hours
518 evenings away from home
1,260 hours sitting on classroom chairs
105 text books
43 large 3-ring binders
2 thermos bottles
1 back pack
3 addresses and phones numbers
210 trips to Scottsdale Bible Church
1 speeding ticket (Mesa – 32nd St & Southern) – (On the way to Old Testament class. On the seat next to me was a paper on 2 Samuel 7 where it says, “when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men”.)
1 car accident (Scottsdale – Hayden & Via Linda) – (On the way to a Greek test which also crashed)
1 time pushing a vehicle that ran out of gas – (Thank you, Greg Tonkinson, for not owning a full size truck.)
Plus countless hours of reading, studying, discussion, debating, and paper writing.
Graduation day finally arrived. This was it. The pinnacle of my seminary experience. By the grace and mercy of God, I’d made it.
I and my fellow graduates stood at the back of the church, sporting our robes and regalia. The music began. We marched down the aisle toward our seats and our future.
Dr. Dennis Wretlind read the text for the evening. A passage from Psalms. When he finished he said, “I’m now going to read our text again. This time in Hebrew.”
He read it more fluently in Hebrew than he did in English.
I turned to my dear friend Mark Smith, pastor of Grace Community Church in Flagstaff. I said, “I got nothing.”
He looked back and said, “Me, either.”
How is it sitting here at the celebration of my academic achievement, the accomplishment of the most rigorous study I’ve ever done, I feel dumb as a fence post?
Thankfully, our professors had consistently reminded us that one never “arrives” when studying God’s Word. At least once a week they put this wisdom squarely in front of us:
“The purpose of a seminary education is to raise you to a higher level of known ignorance.”
It’s true. In any field or area of study. The more we learn, the more we realize how little we know.
That can either be discouraging or encouraging.
Discouraging if one has the hope of someday “arriving” and knowing everything there is to know.
Encouraging when you realize our higher level of known ignorance points to an infinite God.
At the core of all my seminary education, in the middle of all the $20 dollar theology words like “soteriological pluralism” and “hypostatic union” and “consubstantiation” is a truth I dare not forget.
It’s THE truth. For all of us.
God is God. And we are not.
God is the Creator. We are the created. The created is never greater than the Creator.
When we pursue education and learning under the truth that God is God and we are not, it puts the knowledge we gain in it’s proper place.
More important, remembering God is God and we are not puts us in the proper place. Remembering how little we know compared to our infinite God, we then communicate our knowledge and experience with proper humility.
No one likes a “know it all”. For the simple fact that everyone knows it’s impossible for anyone to “know it all.” Communicating what we know to others with proper humility encourages relationships. It creates a safe environment for both teacher and learner to continue plumbing the depths of an infinite God.
You are a smart person. You know a lot. You have much to offer. God wants you to share your knowledge and life experience with the people in your world. Go do that. Remembering that however much you know, there’s always more to learn.
Todd A. Thompson – One Eye Out