The young man yawned as he leaned against the pole supporting the awning that shaded his sun-bleached hair from the torrid sun. As if slowly strumming a guitar, he absentmindedly brushed his well-traveled leather jacket and once again lifted the rag to polish the drab bronze urn on the crate before him. His gaze floated lazily out of his own tent of trinkets and into the bustling bazaar street where the haze of desert dust seemed to hover like an early morning fog. Suddenly, the dusty salesman blinked and came to life as he spotted an older gentleman, stooped and bearded, shuffling toward his collection of scattered trinkets.
Pausing only long enough to make sure the weathered man looked remotely interested in his wares, the young hawker began his spiel. "Good day, sir." He received only a curt nod from the faded fedora but was not deterred. He decided to cut right to the point as the silent shopper seemed attracted to a basket of jumbled bits of rock and tile. "Now that's a steal there, I tell you. Just got that from one of the digs yesterday. If you're looking for a genuine piece of history for just a bit of an investment, why that's the way to go."
Still only silence as the wrinkled hands rifled through the basket. The wrinkled face betrayed no hints to the young eyes striving to casually size up their latest quarry. "Tell 'ya what," the lad made the first move. "I'll give you the whole basket for five bucks. Five bucks for the whole bunch. Kind of a mixed bag. Maybe 'ya can make a candle holder or fix a picture frame up or somethin'." He paused, then turned toward the bronze urn again, fearing he had wasted even those few seconds of precious lounging time.
From the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of the faded and crumpled five dollar bill as it dropped beside the basket on the bench. He spun and pounced on the money before the mirage could vanish. The young man couldn't help but chuckle as he stuffed the faded bill into the pocket of his equally faded jeans. Nor could he resist sneering, "That's quite a purchase you made there," as the grizzled man swooped up the basket, still peering into its contents.
"Yes, it is." The tired lips finally moved as if animated by the find. The gnarled hands steadily lowered the basket to the sandy street. With a slight groan, the rest of the purchaser followed until he kneeled before the bench as if paying homage to the basket. While the dusty clerk leaned forward, curiously peering over his wares, the old man continued sifting through the broken bits before hurriedly pouring them onto the crackling stone street.
"What are you doing?" the younger man inquired, leaning even further to see the strange occurrence. "Are you all right?" No reply. Instead the hands moved swiftly like cheetahs bounding from rest to pursue their prey. Before the inexperienced eyes, the veteran hands flipped, shuffled, and configured the bits like pieces of a jigsaw, all in a whir of motion.
Finally, the well-worn gentleman grunted satisfactorily and rocked back, exposing his work to the once-bored gaze. The smooth-shaven jaw fell; the eyes widened. There upon the dusty street, before his own booth, with the jumbled bits he had just proudly sold for five bucks, lay the most magnificent tile mosaic the young man had ever seen.
He simply gawked for a moment before tilting his blank face toward the kneeling figure. "H-how did you know?" he stammered inanely.
The old man merely sighed and began collecting the ancient and colorful stones. "Sir, I've devoted my life to studying the culture that created this art. I've learned not to see a jumbled mess. I've come to expect all the pieces to fit together."
Like the brash, young salesman above, Christian parents and educators often fail to get the big picture. When educating our sacred trusts, we see only bits and pieces of Creation, stale facts to be tossed in a musty basket and sold to the first gullible taker. In doing so, we shortchange not only our own children but also the Artist who designs and sustains the masterpiece.
How Do We Fail?
First, we fail to see the intrinsic value of the cohesiveness of Creation. Like the precocious lad in the earlier tale, we see only bits and pieces of realities, curiosities to be sure, but nothing of eternal value. For example, we may be momentarily awed by the design of an otter's fur to withstand Canadian winters, but we cannot readily connect that marvel with Euclidean mathematics or Romantic literature. Perhaps we recognize the beauty of a Rembrandt but cannot explain the theological or historical significance of such a work.1 More importantly, we often don't have a clue what any of it has to do with Christ's work of redemption, the axis of history.
Second, we often fail to value adequately what little we do see of the cohesiveness of reality. We all too readily slap a five dollar price tag on priceless realities. For example, much work has been done in recent decades to disprove the lie of Darwinian evolution and to proclaim the masterful design in nature by the Master Designer. But is that enough? Have we finished our work when we see that some of the debris in the basket is actually worth something? What are the implications now for the arts, media, literature, history, politics, mathematics, philosophy, and theology based on these discoveries? Can we correctly identify the treacherous thought patterns that led us to such abysmal errors as evolution? More importantly, can we use our current information to predict and counter the next atheistic salvo?2
Third, we tend to compound our original error of devaluating the cohesiveness of reality by ridiculing those who claim to see something grander than a pile of rubble. All too quickly, we chuckle under our breath at those who seem so eager to connect the dots in a divine network of truth. A shake of the head, a patronizing roll of the eyes, and it's back to polishing something of real worth. Or so we think. Meanwhile, a masterpiece is being uncovered in the dusty street. True, in the process of seeking an interconnectedness of all reality, some explorers may err in their exuberance. Should we then stop seeking a shorter route to the Indies? Should we then fail to discover a New World? Perhaps we should ask, do we protest because we are afraid to fail or, worse yet, because we fear we may find that there is no masterpiece?
How Do We Succeed?
First, we should learn from the grizzled veteran in the earlier tale. The distinct advantage he had over the rookie was that he had thoroughly studied the culture that created the masterpiece. Likewise, we should not expect to get the big picture until we too have thoroughly studied the Creator's culture. We do so by moving beyond what commonly passes for spirituality these days (having an existential relationship with Christ) and acquiring a knowledge of God through fervent study of both Scripture and the writings of holy men used by God throughout history to expose the cohesiveness of His Creation. When we do so, we ready ourselves to see the unity that we should expect to see from the harmonious Trinity.
Second, once we grow in our knowledge of the One who is both diverse and unified, we will then expect to see a divine network of truth wherever we look. The astute purchaser recognized his dusty find as something precious because he had "come to expect all the pieces to fit together." And so they did. Not because he simply perceived them to be fitting, but because "all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist" (Col. 1:16-18 NKJV).3
The reality of the universe is that all things do fit together in perfect harmony and are integrated because the Creator and Sustainer of the universe is perfectly harmonized and integrated.4 The reason we should expect to see cohesiveness in reality is that we see cohesiveness in the One who defines reality. The reason we can connect physics to history is that they both came from the same divine source. The reason we can justly seek a connection between Aristotle and the CBS Evening News is that the same unified God created both Aristotle and Dan Rather for the same unified purpose. Could it be that the reason we fail to acquire such wisdom is that we have failed to fear God for who He is, choosing rather to substitute a god more fit to our curriculum? Such efforts are vain, for "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Ps. 111:10 NKJV).
Consequently, the reason we often fail to connect the dots for our children at home and in the classroom is that either we don't think the dots are connected, or, if they are, we've grown comfortable with our present, though deficient, understanding of things. After all, educators and parents would have to admit that all these years they've fallen short of presenting, or even attempting to present, a cohesive curriculum based on a Creator who is both unified and diverse, unique yet integrated. 5 Think of the chaotic school board meetings that could result from such a shift, not to mention the textbook publishing chaos that could ensue. As Shakespeare said, "better to bear those ills we have than fly to others we know not of. Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all."6
Thus we can expect to be ridiculed just as was the gentleman in the parable.7 What an absurd price to pay for a basket of rocks! Indeed, if that were all it was, then we must concede the man to have been touched with too much sun. Think of the risk he took in dumping the jagged pieces in the street. What if he had been wrong? Imagine the laughter filling the marketplace. But he knew the designers. He expected the design. He did not hesitate to pay the price deemed too high by the arrogant clerk. But for those who see the big picture, what price could be too high?
"For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36 NKJV).
1. For a good introduction to the significance of art to theology, other disciplines, and culture in general see Gene Edward Veith, State of the Arts: From Bezalel to Mapplethorpe, (Wheaton, 1991), especially the chapter entitled "A Walk through the Museum."
2. Christians have become quite adept at educating students to counteract the cultural shifts that occurred two generations ago. That is not good enough. Anticipating and preparing for future paradigm shifts must be part of any Christian education effort. For a good synopsis of cultural history from a Christian perspective see Gene Edward Veith, Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture, (Wheaton, 1994). The entire sixteen-book TURNING POINT Christian Worldview Series, edited by Marvin Olaskey, is a must-read for all educators in a post-modern world.
3. For a thorough and convicting treatment of this text and similar ones, especially regarding redemption and man's place in it, see the sermon "God Glorified in Man's Dependence" by Jonathan Edwards.
4. Perhaps the best treatment I have seen on the relationship of the Triune God to reality is the classic R. J. Rushdoony, The One and the Many: Studies in the Philosophy of Order and Ultimacy (Fairfax, VA, 1978).
5. "Basic to a sound educational enterprise is a changing curriculum. Precisely because a sound curriculum has as its foundation an unchanging faith in the sovereign and triune God and His infallible Word, it will therefore recognize that man and his problems will change and develop. The area of unchanging is in God and eternity, not in time and man." Rushdoony, R.J.,The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum, Ross House Books (Vallecito, CA, 1981), 13.
6. Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1.
7. "We must become serious about Christian educational theory and practice; serious enough to reexamine everything that is currently being done in our schools. And by everything, I mean everything, down to the practice of eating lunch at school! We must go back to scratch, indeed, even further back to itch!" Adams, Jay, Back to the Blackboard: Design for a Biblical Christian School, Timeless Texts (Woodruff, SC, 1982, 1998), 15.