Josephine Elia, PhD
“Our ideas of education take too narrow and too low a range. There is need of a broader scope, a higher aim. True education means more than the pursual of a certain course of study. It means more than a preparation for the life that now is. It has to do with the whole being, and with the whole period of existence possible to man. It is the harmonious development of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual powers. It prepares the student for the joy of service in this world and for the higher joy of wider service in the world to come.” Education, 13.
On September 27th, 2013, I stood in room A210 of Princeton University’s Engineering Quadrangle to defend my dissertation. It was difficult to grasp what that day encapsulated—the end of five years of work and the end of a lifetime of schooling. But while I received a terminal degree, I’m far from done being a student because of my enrollment in another school—the School of Christ.
I was introduced to campus ministry early in my college career and came to understand the experiences of Moses and Daniel in a new light. Both spent time in secular systems of education in Egypt and Babylon, respectively. It was said of Daniel that he “purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself,” while of Moses, “the influences that had surrounded him in Egypt … made an impression on his mind and character” (Education, 63). This influence was so strong that it took forty years of quiet communion with God in the desert to fit him for his calling. While Moses is my favorite Bible hero, with respect to their experiences in Egypt and Babylon, I would rather be Daniel than Moses.
Redeeming Secular Education
Moses’ and Daniel’s stories taught me that first, secular education is inadequate (detrimental, in fact) in preparing someone for his divinely appointed calling. Second, the time spent in the secular education system serves a bigger narrative. Daniel wasn’t in Babylon for the sake of being in Babylon. His purpose was even more than being excellent in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. God was going to use him to change the world from that point on. Moses wasn’t in Egypt to enjoy its pomp as a prince; God was going to make him a true prince of Israel, whose work required meekness much more than charisma.
As a university student, it is easy to think that classes or research are the whole reason of someone’s existence. But God has a bigger narrative for each person who commits his life to Him, a context to his educational experience that will give purpose to his classes, research, and entire student life.
The greatest thing about enrolling in the School of Christ is being taught by God Himself. Daniel took Babylonian classes, but he had another curriculum whose Instructor was the One who “revealed secrets.” It was this track of education that gave him wisdom, not just intellect. I may learn chemistry from a teacher, but when I bring it to the God who made chemistry, I’m not only enlightened, but also awed and compelled to worship. Bring history to God and He will give a true understanding of humanity. He is the One who oversees history and whose thoughts are unbiased from all human motivations. Learn engineering with God, and He will show designs that are fully efficient and robust. The mind of the student will commune with the mind of God, and “the effect of such communion on body and mind and soul is beyond estimate” (Education, 14). To me, this is the way my secular education is redeemed.
There is a course in the School of Christ, however, that everyone must go through eventually to advance in their education – the Wilderness Course. This is one of the most difficult courses, along with Dependence, Surrender, and Humility. Here, God removes all other sub-teachers and company so that He can have personal, one-on-one instruction time. Alone and cut off from everyone else, God will teach the subject that no other teacher can, how to continually have “a sense of the personal presence of the Divine One” (Education, 63). Moses went through this course, and thereon after, he never lost that constant vision of God.
For me, this Wilderness Course involved the loss of my father, being far away from family, close friends, and other spiritual support during a long period of mourning. God was insistent that I learned experientially to be content and satisfied with Him only, to be healed and ministered by Him, and to seek His pleasure more than anyone else’s. In essence, I learned to love God supremely and to treasure Him more than any other possession, person, or experience. This course lasted 3.5 years for me, and “Infinite Wisdom counted not the period too long or the price too great” to impart this lesson (Education, 64).
The School Beyond
With God as my Teacher, I don’t plan to ever stop being a student. I treasure His education more than my MIT or Princeton diplomas, and one day I will graduate from this earthly school to the one beyond:
“Heaven is a school; its field of study, the universe; its teacher, the Infinite One… There every power will be developed, every capability increased. The grandest enterprises will be carried forward, the loftiest aspirations with be reached, the highest ambitions realized. And still there will arise new heights to surmount, new wonders to admire, new truths to comprehend, fresh objects to call forth the power of body and mind and soul.” Education, 301, 307.
Josephine Elia lives in Des Plaines, IL where she works as a chemical engineer at UOP Honeywell.