The Fool on the Hill: The Paradox of Learning

I’ve been studying the word “learning” in the Book of Mormon. Most references to this word are accompanied by warnings of how dangerous it is to be an educated person, such as 2 Nephi 9:28-29 which reads, “O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. But to be leaned is good if they hearken to the counsels of God.”

“It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance,” (D&C 131:6), and the Bible Dictionary entry on knowledge says, “Since no one can be saved in ignorance of the gospel, and one progresses only as fast as he gains knowledge, it follows that the person who gains knowledge will have ‘the advantage in the world to come.’”

It turns out both these things are true: we must seek out knowledge and wisdom while being wary of knowledge and wisdom, which is a fun little paradox.

The Complacency of Certainty

I think the key to success in finding balance between being educated while “hearken[ing] to the counsels of God” is resisting the notion, or feeling, of certainty. Once I become certain of how right I am, I create a rift between myself and others around me who may disagree with me—including God—and resist the further truth and knowledge I could gain from them. The more I sink into the smug cushions of certainty, the greater the divide between me and additional truths I should be trying to connect with.

“For unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have” (2 Nephi 28:30).

The prideful voice in this verse declaring, “We have enough” is the voice of certainty. It can be spotted anywhere, including within the church. Accepting the possibility of being wrong, or the possibility of not understanding everything, is the key to being teachable.

The Fool on the Hill

“And whoso knocketh, to him will he open; and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches—yea, they are they whom he despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them” (2 Nephi 9:42).

This verse reminds me of the Beatles song “The Fool on the Hill.” We are all fools before God. We make so much time on things of little importance, and spend such small amounts of time on things that really matter. Money, worldly accomplishments, social status. Why does this stuff matter so much to us? What in the world are we doing on this little speck of a planet? There is a surprising amount of freedom in acknowledging you’re a fool. I highly recommend it.

I don’t think the gospel teaches necessarily to rid our lives of worldly pursuits and possessions, but when the above scripture says to “cast these things away,” I think it means to cast these things from our hearts. In other words, which direction are we facing our tents? Where do our desires direct our attention?

If our hearts are pure, true knowledge and wisdom come via humility, and not by any other means.

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