“For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21).
AS PLEASURABLE AS OUR INTELLECTUAL PURSUITS MAY BE, WE MUST BE CAREFUL TO KEEP THESE IN PERSPECTIVE. Like the Athenians, we may be thrilled “to tell or to hear some new thing.” But it is to be hoped that we have our sights set on something more than the mere exchange of intellectual information. Seeking God requires the use of our intellects, and there is an intense joy in the right use of the minds we’ve been given. Yet seeking God is not just an intellectual pursuit. We must work at achieving balance between this priority and others that are no less important.
One of the dangers we face, of course, is pride. Paul contrasted the benevolent benefits of love with the lofty attitude that often goes with learning when he said, “Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies” (1 Corinthians 8:1). It is a rare individual who can make more intellectual progress than his peers and not begin to feel at least a little proud of that fact. So in seeking the knowledge of God, we must keep pride in check by every possible means.
But the word “love” suggests another danger: we may become so consumed with intellectual activity that we disconnect ourselves from the people around us and from the active responsibilities of daily living. Spiritually speaking, we can’t afford the luxury of living in an ivory tower. Having wrestled, perhaps by the burning of midnight oil, with the ideas that are involved in seeking God, we must come out into the sunshine of real human relationships and put to work the truths we have learned. We must not engage in “pointless lucubrations,” as I once heard a friend refer to purely abstract inquiries.
There is a great accountability that goes with knowledge. On the one hand, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and on the other, much will be expected of those to whom much has been given. Whether we’ve learned little or much, whatever we’ve learned involves a stewardship. There are serious responsibilities that go with knowledge, and especially with the knowledge of God. To know even a little of Him is a privilege we should respond to with reverence, caution, and respect.
“Don’t let your intellectual pleasure exceed your fear of misusing it” (Guigo I).