Back to School

First published September 2017

The Reverend John Chandler reflects on the importance of 'knowing' in our hearts.

Why do we need school? For writing? MS Word has a spell-checker. Maths? I have a calculator. Geography? Google Earth. History? There’s no future in it. Experience? It’s all on YouTube.

We can’t allow our children to think like that, of course – though I’m sure they do, at times! Perhaps we all do…. OK, yes, I do. It’s so easy to benefit from the published learning of others, saving time and energy. And why not? Even the most diligent bookworm learns from others’ research. Which means I’m pleased you’re reading this, especially if you learn anything from it!

The Web and social media are great for helping us get our work done by the end of the day, but not for helping us stop and think. And when I do that, I realise that my focus is often on deadlines and demands rather than on discovery and development. Like a schoolchild, I’ve often taken a holiday from learning, and really should get back to school; be willing to be taught, and to re-learn the skill of learning. The whole point of schooling is to prepare us for life, but school can’t teach us everything, and anyway the world keeps changing! The best skill we can learn is how to keep on learning.

Having said that, I think that the Christian Church has for centuries placed far too much emphasis on teaching and learning. Don’t misunderstand me, the more I learn about Jesus, the more I realise there is to know, and the more I want to learn. But I believe one important thing - what we know in our heads is secondary; what we know in our hearts is vital. This view is reinforced when I read the Bible: the word ‘teach’ appears 192 times; ‘learn’ 152; but the word ‘know’ over 1500 times – exactly 500 in the New Testament!

St. John in his Gospel says that Jesus has made God known to us; the disciples told Jesus: “We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God”; Job famously declared “I know that my Redeemer lives”. And my favourite quotation on the subject? ‘By this will all people know that you are my disciples – that you love one another’. So may all the facts and experiences of our lives do far more than fill our heads with knowledge, but fill our hearts with a deep-down awareness of the love of God. Then we’ll be fit to face the world, prepared for this life… and the next.