Christians believe that education is a good thing—more than that, that it is a God-given blessing we are supposed to share with our children and with as many other people as possible.
In fact, the Western system of education was created by the Christian church. Many early Christians believed that by educating people, they could share the Good News of Christ. People who became literate could then read the Bible and spread the Gospel more readily to those around them.
Christians have long used education as a form of mission work to underserved nations and communities. Mother Teresa herself used education as a way to alleviate girls’ poverty. Many missionaries today work with the same goals in mind; to educate someone is often to pull them out of poverty and point them toward a better life.
A practical gift
Education is practical. Even the birds teach their young how to fly and where to find food and shelter. How much more should human beings teach their children how to live well. We know that a person’s level of education typically corresponds to their potential income and thus their ability to care for themselves and their family. Therefore, we ought to encourage education for all people as a logical means to achieve security and well-being.
Theologian Martin Luther said that it was necessary for youth to be educated to ensure, “that there will always be preachers, jurists, pastors, writers, physicians, schoolmasters, and the like, for we cannot do without them.”
Harvard University and Yale University were founded as congregational establishments by Christians in search of knowledge and wisdom. Those who are educated well can often go on to achieve great accomplishments to help humanity through medicine, science, the written word, and more.
Good for society
When a social group is well educated, it is more likely to vote for good civic leaders, promote libraries and safe schools, and give back financially to its institutions and to future generations. Contrastingly, we know that there is a strong correlation between lack of education and imprisonment, with prison rates going up as the level of education goes down. Victor Hugo once said, “He who opens a school door closes a prison.”
Unfortunately, it’s not always so simple. Those who face extreme poverty and/or live in dangerous, crime-ridden neighborhoods often cannot afford the luxury of a solid education. Many resort to criminal activity or must work to provide for their families instead of attaining a high school or higher education degree. Disproportionate rates of imprisonment for people of color lead to racial inequalities in schools. And the increasing cost of a college education can be prohibitive for many.
Those who can should invest time and resources into providing safe public school systems for all children in all socioeconomic situations. Education is often the best path to a safer, more stable life and livelihood. Kids who are well educated—particularly about public health issues—can go on to make wiser decisions that will positively impact their futures.
So what should Christians do?
God delights when we use the gifts, interests, and talents he gave us to the best of our abilities. Developing our God-given potential will look different for everyone and may or may not always follow the traditional college route. We can determine God’s will for our lives by seeking him and pursuing the interests and abilities he has already given us.
Aristotle famously said, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” Christians in places of privilege should use their education and resources to help others less fortunate to do so, as well. Education does not always look like private school or college. Sometimes educating others can look like teaching people in other countries how to clean their water or to sustainably grow crops. Sometimes it means literacy training, public health education, reading to underprivileged children, or donating books to a shelter.
God intends for his people to use their gifts to serve others in his name, and that can take many forms. Christians ought to do what they can to allow all people the opportunity to improve their lives through education.
Intended by God
Education is one way in which human beings come to reach their full potential—and God cares about that. He intends for his people to have life and to have it to the fullest (John 10:10). God made us for many reasons, but one of them is certainly to ask questions—to trace God’s operations in the universe—to rejoice and stand in awe when we see the wonderful things he has done.
“The study of truth requires a considerable effort—which is why few are willing to undertake it out of love of knowledge—despite the fact that God has implanted a natural appetite for such knowledge in the minds of men.”
― St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles
We are made in God’s image, and God is creative. How can we, then, not be creative? How can we not be interested in the creation God has made? And because God is a God of logic and intelligence and wisdom, we can expect to find logic in creation as well. The stars obey astronomical laws because the mind who designed our universe is an orderly mind. The same sense of order is found in genetics, nuclear physics, and mathematics, and new discoveries are waiting to be made in every field, all the time. God is consistent, and therefore his universe is consistent. That is what makes learning possible.
The human race heaps up more and more discoveries, and we teach what we have learned to our children. And this is right for us to do. To do otherwise would be to insult the God who made such an awesome cosmos. It would be like yawning through Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony or turning our backs on Michelangelo’s David.
All truth is God’s truth
Christians believe that there is no truth anywhere that will ultimately come into conflict with the truth of the Christian faith as the Holy Spirit has delivered it to us. God is the God of all truth, not just theological truth, and truth by definition cannot be in conflict with itself. We should delight in education, not fear it.
In Romans 12:2, Paul urges believers, “ Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
As followers of Christ, we can change our minds based on new things we learn, always holding this knowledge up to the perfect standard set before us in the Bible, God’s inspired Word. We can learn from others who came before us and welcome the Holy Spirit to help us determine the truth when opinions are many.
Knowledge and wisdom
The Bible distinguishes between knowledge and wisdom. Anyone can attain an education given proper resources, time, and the motivation to do so. Wisdom allows us to know truth from lies and to use our knowledge to better serve others for God’s glory. James 1:5 says that if we ask our generous God for wisdom, he will gladly give it.
In Proverbs 1:7, we see that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Let’s not be among those who mock others who devote their lives to learning and seeking knowledge. God teaches us how to interact with people, learned or not, and how to use our intelligence for good: “The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:17)
God himself is the source of all wisdom. He calls his people to seek him, to seek knowledge, and to use what we’ve learned to help others in his name. We honor him by developing our God-given talents and interests to the best of our abilities to live fully and serve him.