Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Treasure of Ideas; Part 2

In part 1 of this topic I discussed, out of Isaac Watts' book "Logic: The Right Use of Reason in the Inquiry After the Truth" the importance and advantages of pursuing and accumulating ideas or information about the world in which we live. After listing some of the main advantages of accumulating ideas; I would like to now move on to talking about which kinds of ideas are most important for us to pursue. On that topic Watts says the following:

"Furnish yourselves with a rich variety of ideas; acquaint yourselves with things ancient and modern; things natural, civil, and religious; things domestic and rational; things of your native land, and of foreign countries; things present, past, and future; and above all, be well acquainted with God and yourselves; learn animal nature, and the workings or your own spirits.

You will tell me, perhaps, that you design the study of law or divinity; and what good can natural philosophy or mathematics do you, or any other science, not directly subordinate to your chief design? But let it be considered, that all sciences have a sort of mutual connexion; and knowledge of all kinds fits the mind to reason and judge better concerning any particular subject.

And more especially let those ideas be laid up and preserved with the greatest care, which are most directly suited, either to your eternal welfare as a Christian, or to your particular station and profession in this life; for though the former rule recommends a universal acquaintance with things, yet it is but a more general and superficial knowledge that is required or expected of any man, in things which are utterly foreign to his own business; but it is necessary you should have a more particular and accurate acquaintance with those things that refer to your particular province and duty in this life, or your happiness in another [heaven, eternity].

There are some persons who never arrive at any deep, solid, or valuable knowledge in any science, any business of life: because they are perpetually fluttering over the surface of things in a curious and wandering search of infinite variety; ever hearing, reading, or asking after something new, but impatient to labour to lay up and preserve the ideas they have gained: their souls may be compared to a looking-glass, that wheresoever you turn it, it receives the image of all subjects, but retains none.

In our younger years, while we are furnishing our minds with a treasure of ideas, our experience is but small, and our judgment weak; it is therefore impossible at that age to determine aright concerning the real advantage and usefulness of many things we learn. But when age and experience have matured your judgment, then you will [should] gradually drop the more useless part of your younger furniture [ideas] and be more solicitous to retain that which is more necessary for your welfare in this life, or a better [heaven]. Hereby you will come to make the same complaint that almost every learned man has done after long experience in study, and in the study human life and religion [namely God]: Alas! How many hours, and days, and months, have I lost in pursuing some parts of learning, and in reading some authors which have turned to no other account but to inform me, that they were not worthy my labour and pursuit!"

I apologize for the length of the quote, but wanted to make sure I did justice to Watts' point regarding which ideas are most valuable for us to pursue. As with the last point, let me suggest a few major things to take away from Watts' conversation on obtaining a treasure of ideas:

1. Variety: The first bit of advice that I think is important to take away from Watts' discussion is that there is a great benefit in gathering information about a variety of ideas. To some this may seem silly, and some may even comment that all of our attention should be focused on spiritual matters. Although there is no doubt that our minds should be set on things above and not on things below; I think it is equally true that to have an appreciation of and a recognition that all things here on earth were created by the God who is "above" will actually aid us in keeping our minds set on things above. Instead of allowing the things of this world to distract us, having a correct appreciation of the things of this world in relation to their Creator will greatly increase our appreciation, praise and thanksgiving of God.

A second benefit to gathering a variety of ideas about things is an increased ability to interact and communicate with other believers and non-believers. As we come to see all things in Christ, we increase our ability to discuss Christ in all situations in life and thus bring glory to God by spreading the gospel.

Having a variety of ideas also increases our ability to use practical illustrations to communicate the truths of God just as Jesus Himself used practical illustrations (parables, similes and metaphors) to communicate truths about Himself and the Father.

2. Most Valuable: Watts' first suggestion regarding what ideas to obtain suggests that we acquire a general knowledge about a large variety of things. On this point Isaac makes sure to note that when we obtain ideas about a large variety of things we are merely coming to a general knowledge about such things, not becoming experts on all things. Moving on Watts urges that the ideas that we should focus our efforts on are those which are most important and most valuable.

What ideas, then, are more important to know than information about God Himself and that which impacts our eternity? Ideas about all of the things of this world will certainly pass away and are very temporal in both their usefulness and ability to satisfy, but ideas (or an intimate relationship and acquaintance) about God are both eternally useful and eternally satisfying and therefore are worth our attention and efforts more than anything else.

Watts also implores the hunter of the treasure of ideas to focus on those things which are most relevant to his or her position in life. Do everything you do with all your heart as unto the Lord. The better you are at your job, marriage or parenting the more you are glorifying God.

3. Grow Up: When we are young it is important for us to begin to take in a great deal of information and ideas as we come to understand how to live in the world that God has brought us into. As we grow up, however, we should come to see that learning some things is more important than learning others. If we refuse to let go of these childish ideas of what is important (i.e. the notion that being a kid is just all about having fun and being entertained and satisfied but not having any grasp of the truth or responsibility) we will find ourselves neglecting things of eternal importance. Are the only books you read books that entertain? Grow up. Do you spend all of your "free time" watching TV or indulging in mindless and purposeless hobbies? Grow up.

It is true that God wants us to enjoy the life He has given us, but if we constantly make a dichotomy between God and fun, we will be saying that knowing God, obeying Him and sharing Him with others is not fun and that God Himself is not fun. We can still do our hobbies and such but we must beware that they do not become more time consuming or satisfying than knowing God as that would become nothing less than idolatry and selfish indulgence. Jesus Christ came down from the perfect sweetness and divine entertainment of the heavens to glorify God and show us love; should we not follow His example?

In the next section I will end by giving some advice, from Watts, on some very helpful methods for gaining and retaining a wealth of ideas. I promise the third post will come much quicker than the second followed the first!