‘Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’ Matthew 19:24
It’s a well known teaching of Jesus that riches can easily sabotage our walk of faith. Christians who know the Bible recognize this as a core teaching; even if we don’t live like we do.
Like so many teachings of Jesus, it’s a metaphor that has indirectly entered our common Western wisdom. In the sense that we are kind of, sort of suspicious of riches. At least, suspicious of those with riches greater than our own. Where is the numerical cut-off? At what percentile of the world’s wealth do we consider ourselves not too rich, and when do we consider others far too rich? It’s a tough thing to delineate.
We love riches when they get us what we want, personally or politically. We distrust them when they help others gain things we can’t have, or when they advance the power of those whose opinions are at odds with our own.
But I wonder, could we change the passage to reflect another thing that I fear can easily sabotage our walk with God. What if it said ‘it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a highly educated person to enter the kingdom of God.’
That sounds regressive. I don’t mean for it to be. In fact, I’m a huge advocate of education. I believe that learning is a great, Godly good that we should encourage. I have an advanced degree, and so does my wife. Our children have all been to college.
Furthermore, I believe that in the faith, we make a huge mistake when we reject education. When we scoff at scholarship and look askance at history, science, philosophy and theology. This is a particularly troubling Protestant tendency that I have seen over the years. Apologist John Patrick said, and I may paraphrase here, ‘The Protestant church gave up the life of the mind 200 years ago.’ Much to our loss. Christians should strive to be at the forefront of every discipline as much as possible. And rejection of learning, of new scholarship (whether in Biblical studies or evolutionary theory) does nothing to advance the Gospel; it only makes us seem fearful even as we purport to worship an all-powerful God of truth. (An inconsistency to say the least.)
Certainly, some are educated in a manner that leaves no room for the divine, no room for God. Education can expunge faith. Sometimes because the student rationally decides that faith does not seem reasonable. Sometimes through the explicit efforts of educators to ‘liberate’ their students from faith. But even this is not what I mean. This is the risk we take when we are educated and when we send our children for education. The alternative is to deny them education, and to ensconce them in a small, intellectual prison where nothing new can enter.
What I do fear, however, is the unfortunate belief that somehow education makes us ‘better’ than those without college degrees. I fear that some believe it is somehow a failure, as a Christian, to follow a path that does not involve higher education. Or that we are ‘failures’ if we don’t make the best grades in the best schools.
My daughter, Elysa, has observed this among other students in her Christian college. Her friends have remarked that their parents would berate them for making mediocre grades, and would seem to tie their worth to their academic performance. If these are truly Christian parents, then that is not a Biblical perspective at all, and only serves to diminish the true, eternal and unchangeable worth of their children, which is forgiveness through, acceptance by and identity in Christ.
Ultimately, if we worship at the altar of education, we merely worship a chiral image of god of wealth. For both serve to elevate our value and power above our true worship of God. This allows us the transient security of the temporal influence of education , position and wealth. Indeed, they are inextricable if education’s goal is to attain more wealth.
‘For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.’ Matthew 7:14
It is incumbent on us, as believers, to be educated and educate others. But we must not make our faith walk more perilous, more complicated, more legalistic by conflating education with our ultimate purpose or ultimate identity. And it is essential that we not create the impression among others that their educational level ultimately matters a bit to God, who sees rich and poor, brilliant and simple, good and wicked, all as persons in need of grace and redemption.