How Faith Creates Lifelong Learners

How Faith Creates Lifelong Learners

Continual learning is one of God’s highest priorities for mankind

Commentary
           

Much is said today about the need for lifelong learners — individuals who live out an ethic of continual education and intellectual development to adapt to a world of rapid and constant change. During this "age of accelerations,"[1] when forces such as technology, globalization and biodiversity loss are accelerating at once, lifelong learning is no longer simply a hobby — it’s a necessity.

Many are the motivations to continue learning. Today, multitudes are forced to keep their knowledge current because their temporal salvation depends on it. Others enjoy education as an after-hours or post-retirement avocation. Some may approach learning with a mixture of these motivations or something else entirely. Whatever the reason, none is more powerful than the quiet, hidden prod of one’s religion and personal faith.

Lifelong learning encompasses much more than what one learns in a classroom. As The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ second prophet, Brigham Young, said, this entire life is “a great school” of unending learning opportunities.[2] We learn in our families, our communities, our churches and everywhere in between. The late Church president Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) had education’s vast breadth and bottomless depth in mind when he spoke of the urgency of continual learning. “You cannot afford to stop,” he said. “You must not rest in your development. There is so much to learn and so little time in which to learn it.”[3]

Many faiths preach the importance of the acquisition of knowledge and the development of intelligence. One prominent Jewish rabbi calls intelligence “God’s greatest gift to humanity.”[4] Latter-day Saint scripture says “the glory of God is intelligence”[5] and encourages Latter-day Saints to seek learning “out of the best books.”[6] And the Qur’an teaches that “true awe of God” is realized only by those “who have knowledge.”[7]

Indeed, for many people of faith, lifelong learning claims the dignified status of being one of God’s highest priorities for mankind. Here are a few reasons why:

Faith provides a framework to help one adapt to change

The Bible is replete with accounts of those who learned to adapt to new circumstances. Adam and Eve learned to live a new life outside the Garden of Eden. The children of Israel under Moses learned to adjust to a new life outside Egypt. And the captive Israelites learned to live outside their beloved Jerusalem for 70 years.

              

Some of life’s most enduring lessons come during times of failure and change as we rethink the way we do things and reach deep into our souls for solutions. In this context, a framework of faith is a bright light because of its stubborn insistence on eternal hope and a higher purpose and plan for life. Having a purpose larger than self helps many approach failure and change with extra equanimity. While not everyone agrees, it is nevertheless a comforting reality for many that the God of the universe is in control and wants the best for all of us.

Faith encourages people to actively seek learning

Author Dorothy Sayers said, "The sole true end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves."[8] Another author, Ellen Parr, is often attributed with the saying, “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”

Faith encourages curiosity and questions. The verbs "ask," "seek" and "knock" occur, collectively, more than 500 times in the Bible. In the Jewish faith, according to one rabbi, “it is a religious duty to teach our children to ask questions.”[9] Martin Luther’s questioning of Catholic dogma led to the Protestant Reformation. Joseph Smith’s questions to God led to the founding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and three new books of scripture. Most famously perhaps, Christ taught His followers, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you."[10]

This is no passive pattern of learning, but one that invites people to know for themselves by doing.

Faith stresses humility toward what we don’t know

One of the great dangers to increased learning is the temptation to think we know everything. Paul of the New Testament taught that “those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know.”[11] In 1969, Mormon leader Hugh B. Brown put it another way, noting that even with the many important truths proclaimed by his Church, “there is an incomprehensibly greater part of truth which we must yet discover.”[12]

             

Such discovery happens naturally in community, a place familiar to people of faith. Tapping into the collective brainpower and experience of our fellow men and women provides an accelerated kind of learning. As the late Paul Kalanithi wrote, “Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still is never complete.”[13] As Jesus said, “One sows and another reaps.”[14]

Faith places an eternal lens on the acquisition of knowledge

C. S. Lewis wrote that "all that is not eternal is eternally out of date.”[15] In the Mormon tradition, Joseph Smith said the only thing we can take with us at death is the learning we have stored in our minds. “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us” after death. Furthermore, he said, “If a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life … he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.”[16] Thus, lifelong learning is about much more than securing one’s temporal salvation.

Learning is not an activity unique to this life. A teaching from Brigham Young makes this clear: “We do not expect to cease learning while we live on earth; and when we pass through the veil, we expect still to continue to learn."[17]

At a time when lifelong learning is an essential practice, nothing could be more helpful to society than those who place an eternal lens on the acquisition of knowledge.

 

[1] Thomas L. Friedman, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.

[2] Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 12:124.

[3] Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 298–99.

[5] Doctrine and Covenants 93:36.

[6] Doctrine and Covenants 88:118.

[7] Qur’an, 35:28, Oxford World’s Classics edition.

[8] Dorothy Sayers, The Lost Tools of Learning.

[10] Matthew 7:7.

[11] 1 Corinthians 8:2, New International Version.

[12] Hugh B. Brown, An Eternal Quest—Freedom of the Mind, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year (May 13, 1969), 12.

[13] Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air.

[14] John 4:37, New International Version.

[15] C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves.

[16] Doctrine and Covenants 130:18–19.

[17] DBY, 91.

Style Guide Note:When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online Style Guide.