Almost everybody has heard the old adage about people losing their faith in seminary. Being surrounded by seminarians on a daily basis, I sense this fear in a large contingent of students as well. Students no longer feel as if they are growing in their relationship to God even though their lives are devoted to studying God. We continue to engage God the same way we did before we began in-depth study. I think this is where seminarians run into trouble – they no longer know how to relate to God with their new knowledge they have obtained. Thus, they continue to wonder why they are unable to connect with God through reading the Bible because their minds are inundated with questions from Biblical Interpretation class. So, as a solution, many students try to compartmentalize academic reading and devotional reading. Essentially, the dichotomy is between mind and heart. But why do we need to separate the two? Is our new knowledge of God a hindrance to the relationship?
In contrast to this common perception of separating the mind and heart, I propose that for seminarians to continue to mature in their faith during seminary, they need to fuse the two together. The new knowledge should allow one’s relationship with God to be more rooted and thus able to move beyond the elementary stages of a relationship. In human relationships, you do not hear people complain that all the knowledge they have gained about the other person has made it more difficult to relate to them. Rather, these are building blocks for the relationship to develop even further. People that have been married for 25 years hold much more knowledge about the other person than when they first started dating. This knowledge affects how people interact with one another. A couple married that long probably acts quite differently than when they were first married. Knowledge serves as a catalyst to relate to the other person in a different way, a way that leads them into a closer union.
But we don’t see it this way with God. We are unwilling to change how we relate and connect to God because some of those steps may be difficult. We often have not been taught how to relate to God except through Bible reading, daily prayer, and journaling. What happens when those run their course? In human relationships we adapt. Seminarians need to learn how to adapt – they need to seek to employ their knowledge to deepen their relationship with God rather than hinder it. They need to change their repertoire of spiritual disciplines, ones that can utilize knowledge rather than suppress and compartmentalize it.
It is not knowledge that is getting in the way of our relationship with God but rather the compartmentalization and neglect of it.