2/13/2006

Purpose

A few days ago I was in the library reading a marginally over-my-head academic paper on learning Bayesian Networks. Halfway through, I stopped and asked myself "what the hell am I doing?"

It was a great question. The paper had to do with a topic I took a class on a few quarters ago. While the topic somewhat interests me, it wasn't directly related to anything I'm working on now, and I doubt I could have picked much up without applying it immediately.

So, why was I reading that paper? That's what I want to know. Maybe I just thought it might possibly come in handy some day. Maybe I thought it would make me cool to read an academic paper that was over my head and not relevant to anything I was doing at the moment. Whatever the reason, though, it outlines a problem I've been working on lately: filtering out crud. You see, I have this insatiable desire to know everything. This makes it easy to justify reading a wide range of materials that are in themselves interesting, but a waste of my time nevertheless.

It is easy to justify this unquenchable thirst to know as a high desire which ought to be indulged. But indulging it would just eat me up inside. The preacher says that God has set eternity in the hearts of men (read this in context. It is not a good thing), and that is what I find in my heart: an eternity that is never satisfied, that always wants more, that is trying desperately to fill itself by learning something else, and then something else, and then something else.

Does the pattern sound familiar? It is the pattern of sin. It is the pattern of addiction. It is a sure indicator that Satan has conned you with the hollow promise of fulfillment "next time", if only you persevere in what is sure to make you miserable and leave you empty.

Now, it is a good thing that I will never run out of material to study. It is a good thing that God made me an academic. But it is not good to lose myself in academia, to look for my identity there and neglect the weightier things. So this Lent I am going to put aside all my articles and books, study Mark (somehow in my thirst for knowledge the Bible always gets last priority), and attempt to develop a framework for how I ought to spend my study time. This will probably include more writing (something which is good for me, but hard) and hopefully I'll come away with a philosophy of education that places my studies where they should be: subservient to the gospel, not the other way around.