“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?” poet T.S. Eliot famously asked three quarters of a century ago. “Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”
In an era of information overload, Eliot’s questions have more relevance than ever before. And they speak directly to the central demand of modern education, whether inside or outside the classroom: to impart the wisdom needed to discriminate between the trivial and the consequential; to provide points of fixity in life, a sense of context, an anchor in a society swirling in a sea of relentless change.
Three thousand years before Eliot, the writer of Proverbs captured the same point with sublime urgency: “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding” (4:7). He then furnished the definition that ever after has provided the consummate yardstick for measuring wisdom: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding” (9:10).
The essence of true education, therefore, is learning to rise above the surfeit of mere information that pours forth daily from the Internet and the media, and to gain a more expansive view of what constitutes the reality of being.
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, deeply valued what she described in her textbook on Christian Science, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” as “academics of the right sort.” She wrote, “Through astronomy, natural history, chemistry, music, mathematics, thought passes naturally from effect back to cause” (p. 195). And what is this cause but God and His laws? The understanding of spiritual causation has a transforming influence, saving humanity from sin and disease.
No one had a clearer view of reality – no one had greater wisdom or “knowledge of the holy” – than Christ Jesus. Seeing through the erroneous presumptions of human science, theology, and medicine, he defined a different reality based on the bedrock truth that man – including everyone – is spiritual, reflecting Spirit, God. Jesus’ entire career was as an educator, using words and works to point to that which is dimly perceived by the human senses but clearly visible to spiritual sense. His “fear of the Lord,” his profound understanding of God as the cause and Creator of all, had the effect of redeeming humanity from the belief that men and women are irresistibly inclined toward discord and death. The lame, the blind, the deaf all felt the influence of his spiritual understanding, and this spiritual understanding, imparted in the teachings of Christian Science, is repeating this healing impulse today.
Thus, the true purpose of education is to enable people everywhere to comprehend spiritual truth and, comprehending it, to love it and, loving it, to conform their lives naturally and gladly to the moral and spiritual law.
The prophet Isaiah had a clear sense of the power of spiritual education to ameliorate the human condition, to meet humanity’s need for peace, health, and holiness: “Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation” (Isa. 33:6).