I think we know we’re all often guilty of being influenced by what we refer to as “the world:” our broader, modern culture. We assume its values as our own, often uncritically, without thinking too much about it. We don’t have ill intent; on the contrary, our intent is often really, really good. But, we lose sense of our identity, who God says we are, and how we’re made. Or, even if we have some understanding of it, we don’t embrace it deeply; therefore, our distorted views of who we are distort how we live, or how we think, or what we value. This carries over into how we raise our kids.
I think this is particularly true when it comes to considering our greatest desires for our them, our hopes and dreams for their lives. It’s here that we are possibly most messed up, where we’ve maybe most uncritically accepted our modern culture’s definition of who we are as human beings, and who our kids are, rather than who God says we are.
The truth is always the best place to begin. Since the beginning, in Genesis 1, God’s Word tells us we are made in His image. We were created to walk with Him, side by side, and to be in His presence. We were made so that our whole lives- how we worked, how we loved God and each other, how we lived our lives well–was to be a reflection of God’s glory, lived in His light, and bathed in His love. The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines it this way: “What is the chief end (purpose) of man? To love God and enjoy Him forever.” We were actually created to enjoy God, to relish in being with Him, as hard as that is for some in our frenetic, distracted culture to grasp. That is what God, the One who made us, says is our purpose.
But, almost all of us have embraced a lie. Instead of “man as image-bearer of God,” we live, and plan, and parent subconsciously believing our identity is “man as economic being.” We live as though people are created primarily to contribute to the economy, and to reap the benefits of that economy. Our modern catechism should be something like, “the chief end of man is to buy a lot of stuff and enjoy it forever.” That’s what we believe, and it drives our hopes for our kids.
When I say it that way, you may not believe me. But, here’s how it plays out. If you ask most people (and, honestly, yourself at times): “What’s the purpose of education for your kids?” You know the response: all together now…”so they can get into a great college or university, so they can get a great job, so they can buy lots of stuff, so they can…” what? Be off your payroll? Be secure? Be happy? Take care of you in your old age? I’m not throwing rocks, here. I live in a big glass house, and I have caught myself thinking and feeling it, too. Our hopes and dreams are rooted in our identities as economic beings.
There’s several incredible fallacies here. First, anybody who has played out that progression knows it doesn’t work. There’s no pot of gold at the end of that rainbow, and even for those of us who have found one, are we any more secure or happier? For many, it makes us more insecure and miserable. Is that a future we’re actually desiring for our kids, for people we love? Second, aren’t we tacitly putting our children’s future, and their hopes, in their financial security, rather than in the God who loves them and who actually holds all their tomorrows? This is what Solomon was talking about in Ecclesiastes when he says that, after attaining everything, he realized it was all just vanity, striving after wind.
So, what’s it all for? Should we just chuck the education thing and let kids go live in the woods? Maybe they should live in the woods, but they still need an education. Because the chief end of man is to love God and enjoy Him forever. And, God reveals Himself through His Word. We are people of the Word; we need to read it, to understand it, to think about it. God also calls us to fill the earth, and to subdue it (Gen. 1:28). God calls us to rule it for Him, to steward it well. He wants us to live the good life, to learn what people throughout the ages have written and discovered about life, and death, and love, and brokenness, and war, and peace, and what constitutes beauty, mercy, goodness, and truth. He wants us to have a framework for preserving the best of culture around us, and for creating new culture, all for our good and for His glory. He wants us to never stop learning, never stop seeking Him, never stop creating. That’s the good life, after all.
That’s the best that education, Christian education, offers. When I’m at my best, I really, really want my children to learn to live that way. I hope, in the process, they’ll discover God’s calling on their lives and make a living to support their families. Good God-given work, and His provision through it, is a part of God’s general purpose for our lives. But, when I reorient my perspective on who I am and why I’m here, and ask these big questions for my kids, as well, it helps me see education not as a transactional endeavor, defining what they will get, but as a transformational one, defining who they will be. Transforming lives, deeply rooted in Jesus Christ, with a clear sense of identity, is what I hope is best and brightest about Christian education, and what I hope our school, and our school community, strives for in our kids.
Jay Ferguson, PhD, writes regularly on his blog, The Head and The Heart.