“Your great learning has driven you mad,” demurred Festus (Acts 26, when Paul was speaking in a legal setting, before Agrippa and Festus).
Perhaps, when Festus agreed to send Paul on his way to Caesar for appeal purposes, Festus had been impressed with Paul’s legal status and his logic already. With Christ-ian hindsight (read: bias), it seems to this believer in the 21st century that Festus was avoiding issues and turning the attention from a) what was really bothering him spiritually to b) what was going on legally with Paul. Whether I’m on target with that, I don’t know. But the quote is a memorably one, isn’t it? “Your great learning has driven you mad.” Do you think he offered that analysis with a wink and a smile, or with disgust and rolling of eyeballs? Did he look at Agrippa, or at Paul, or at the ground? Who knows? But it does make a great quote, and today, I’m considering it on its own merit, without a lot of regard for biblical context.
I’ve come into contact with a lot of people who were more intelligent than I am. Seems I interact with a different one of these every day. A few, though, stand out negatively in my mind and heart—not because they’ve bludgeoned me with their brains or otherwise have used their minds for ill. No, the personal conversations have typically been kind, engaging, and mostly more interpersonally committed than Festus probably was with Paul. Yet some of the very intelligent people I know their brains have worked against them for eternity.
I’ve known a few people whose great learning has driven them in a direction I wish they hadn’t gone.
I’ve known people whose brainpower supersedes their inner faith-convictions on a consistent basis. It’s not that brains must be subjugated to feelings—far from it. I enjoy learning things that expand my thinking and challenge my previously held convictions. But in some people, learning seems destined to challenge the very core of faith, and I frequently feel distraught over this.
Since college days, Allen and I have considered ourselves personal friends. We’ve kept up with each other very consistently and intentionally and have been in each other’s homes on numerous occasions. We share a common history, we share music, we share certain life-experiences . . . but we no longer share precious faith. He’s worked on nuclear submarine and on Air Force One and has read infinitely more than I have. Has his great learning driven him mad?
I have another friend whose path was into patently immoral living. He’s also very intelligent and (literally) flies far above my head. And he believes in God but clearly doesn’t hold to a standard, biblically centered Christian faith.
And a few acquaintances or two in my life now—some regular associates, some at arm’s length, and some I only know of—also seem to me to be victims of their particular minds. One of them drives me crazy, having departed from important, sound spiritual moorings toward what I view as apostasy. (This situation could also be called “throwing out the baby with the bathwater,” because he is quite right that some of the periphery was/is ridiculous. But the core is sound, and he’s chucked it all.) Have some allowed intellectual pursuits to topple what they know on a deeper, more faith-oriented basis? Have they even pursued the empirically based knowledge bases that would bolster their faith, or have they passively, depressively given up on God, hurt by the harsh realities of life and the Christian system gone awry?
In no way am I wanting here to denigrate education. Again: I enjoy learning and have greatly benefitted from my own educational experiences. I continue to gain spiritually and in my vocation from those more learned than I. But I am passionately troubled by the effects, in a few people, of the apparent, sometime-conflict of faith and learning.
Although all of us know those whose intellectual experiences have deepened their faith and worked synergistically with Christian thought, we also know highly intelligent people whose learning patterns have driven them away from God.
God, bless them, and help them to reconnect.
(And a more personal request, too, Father: the time I’ve spent think about and writing this on this Wednesday morning is time I simply “did not have.” Would you please honor my use of this time by making the rest of this day amazingly efficient, productive, and rewarding?)
P.S. addendum: things are going well time-wise so far, 3 hours after I wrote the above. Thank You, God. Also, thank You for Terry Paige and his resolute, thoughtful, centered appropriation of his scholarly intellect.