I have no idea how I got through the math portion of the SAT.
I mean that literally. I literally don’t remember. All I can recall is sitting there at an uncomfortable desk in a room filled with a bunch of other students, sweating over variables and the quadratic formula. It’s not that I failed. I did well, fresh-hatched as I was from Algebra II, Trig, and Pre-Calculus. But in the intervening years all of the mathematical knowledge I used to know well has been lost.
A few months ago I took a sample portion of the SAT just for kicks. I found the verbal/critical reading and writing sections simple. But I floundered when I hit the math, bewildered to realize I couldn’t even remember the quadratic formula off the top of my head. And it makes sense that I wouldn’t. I use “real-world math” now to keep track of bank accounts and to calculate interest or to figure out exactly how much on sale that box of cereal really is. My time with algebra and trigonometry is over a decade away, and I haven’t used it once since I started graduate school and my language-related studies.
In this case, the old truism is real: you really do lose it if you don’t use it.
In Hosea 4:6, we find God lamenting the knowledge the Israelites have lost. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge,” He claims. He goes on to accuse them of rejecting knowledge and ignoring the law of God. And there are two key truths in this short and simple condemnation: first, that knowledge of God is linked directly to action (as in this verse, where the ‘lack of knowledge’ leads to deliberate, God-neglecting action), and that the knowledge of God is indeed something that we can forget or reject.
The Israelites demonstrated this over and over again. Idolatry almost always occurred in the lulls between chaos, when – safe and sound, and sometimes prosperous – they became distracted and turned their attention to other, lesser things. Eased into blessing, they became preoccupied with the blessing, and forgot the source of it. From that ignorance and forgetting stemmed most of their sorrows.
And so it goes with us. For modern Christians especially in the West, I think there is a temptation to segregate our spiritual knowledge from the rest of our lives, as though the two cannot meet or have no real influence on one another. We allot God times and spaces – Sunday morning and evening, and “Bible study times,” and we use our knowledge around other Christians – but those times and spaces are always carved out of other things. We assume that study has a place and a use, but we rarely use it perpetually. Like the Israelites, we grow preoccupied with the day-to-day sundries of living. And, like the Israelites, we too run the risks of losing that knowledge, forgetting it, or even – because we have forgotten it – rejecting it. And when we forget what we know of God, we lose our ability to function usefully for Him.
It’s not enough for us to merely cultivate Scriptural knowledge. The Word of God should be the frame through which we live our lives, not just Sunday or end-of-day sustenance. It’s a strange and circular thing: the more knowledge we gain of God, the more it influences our lives, and the more it influences our lives, the more we are driven to seek more knowledge. When 1 Thessalonians reminds us to “pray without ceasing” the implication is that our God-knowledge should be organic to our lives, something lived daily and not something that we carve out time spaces of time for.
Live the Word. Frame the slights and hurts you endure with the knowledge you have of God. Frame your victories with your knowledge of God. In times of trouble or times of difficulty, reorient your perspective with the knowledge you have of God. Each day, as you relate to people, readjust your emotional stance and your reactions in the way His word guides. Philip Yancey, in his book on prayer, once suggested that we might benefit not by thinking of prayer as a spoken dialogue but as a constant act of reorienting ourselves to who God is and to His word. Our Scriptural knowledge can permeate every aspect of our lives if we allow it; we can breathe it and live from it daily.
If we only gather knowledge and do not use it, we run the risk of abandoning it or forgetting it, and that loss will not come without consequences. The Word was not meant to be lived in brief durations, but perpetually: Scripture and God’s wisdom should be the lens through which we see the world.