In May of 2020 I graduated with a PhD in New Testament. I was excited at first. I had been working on this degree for years and I had finally finished! But excitement soon gave way to disappointment.
People began to ask “what’s next?” and I did not really have a good answer. I did not know what was next, and that was scary. For over a decade of my life, I had gone from one degree to the next with a PhD as my ultimate goal, and now I had it, but I felt a little empty. I hit the job market at the same time as the COVID 19 lockdown, and I had more time to think than I could stand.
I never would have said this, but at some level, I thought the degree was a finish line or at least a way of getting the job that would be a finish line. This idea is absurd when I consider scripture.
The author of Ecclesiastes explained that “All the rivers flow into the sea, yet the sea is not full. To the place where the rivers flow, there they flow again. All things are wearisome; no one can tell it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear filled with hearing” (Eccl. 1:7-8, NASB). In other words, humans seek many things with the hope that they will provide lasting fulfillment, but they never do. Education, success, riches, relationships and a thousand other things that we could name will only leave us wanting something else. They make poor finish lines, because they move. I finished my degree, and the first thought was “what about a job?” Even if I get my dream job, my heart would still cry out “what’s next?”
The truth is that a degree will not give you happiness. True, it will make you happy for a time, but it will not give you a lasting happiness or fulfillment.
So, what do we do? The key is to reframe the way we think about our education and life in general. We must put the finish line where it belongs. One day every person will stand before the God of the Universe and give an account for how they lived. Paul knew this reality all too well. He wrote “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. There is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me, but to all those who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8, CSB).
As Christians we must strive to keep our minds focused on the true finish line. We will all stand before God, our master, and we want to hear “’Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy’” (Matthew 25:23 CSB). We want to share in our “master’s joy” for eternity, which is far better than a temporary earthly happiness.
Please hear me when I say that a college or seminary degree is a good thing! I have no regrets. Degrees are useful tools for doing the will of our Lord, but when we forget that they are just tools and start to think of them as the end rather than the means, we set ourselves up for bitterness and disappointment. Only God can give us an everlasting happiness, because God alone is eternal. Therefore, let us make an effort to remember that pleasing God is our end goal, and a degree is only a means of equipping us for that goal.