On April 14, 2014, the terrorist Islamist group called Boko Haram kidnapped over 270 girls, most between ages 16 and 18, from the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School in northeast Nigeria.
Boko Haram means “Western education is sinful.” Part of the motivation behind the attack is their belief that it is sinful for girls to be formally educated at all. Educating girls is a Western effort to undermine the Islamic view of the family.
The leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, said in a recording, “Western education should end… Girls, you should go and get married.” He warned that he would “give their hands in marriage because they are our slaves. We would marry them out at the age of 9. We would marry them out at the age of 12.”
While we advocate for vigorous efforts for the return of the young women, and while we pray for them and their evil abductors, it is fitting to remind ourselves why we as Christians encourage our girls and young women to seek a full education. What I mean by “full” will become clear.
1. God created man male and female in his image.
“God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). The unique human capacities for knowing God and loving God belong to men and women.
The capacity to know the world as from God and through God and for God belongs to men and women. The capacity to delight in all good things, out of thanks to God and for the glory of God, belongs to men and women.
Maximizing these capacities in the worship of God and the fruitful use of the world is a divine mandate to men and women. “God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it’” (Genesis 1:28).
2. God has revealed his glory in the natural world, and he intends for all his creatures to see his wonders and give him praise.
One of the great aims of education is to impart habits of mind that can see the fullest possible range of God’s wonders in the world he has made (Psalm 19:1; 104:24). The praises of women are to increase with their abilities to see and understand the wonderful works of God in the world (Psalm 105:2).
3. God has revealed himself more fully in the inspired word of God than he has in the natural world.
The fact that God reveals himself in a book is explosive with implications for education, from the cradle to the grave. All who aspire to know and love God as fully as they can will aspire to learn to read the book of God.
The Bible is the most important book in the world because it is God’s revelation of what humans need to know for salvation and fruitfulness, which we cannot find out any other way. Here is where God can be truly known, and fully loved. Education is the process of imparting habits and skills of reading that enable human beings to know God and love God as fully as possible.
God wills for women to know him and love him as fully as they can. He wills for them to commune with him directly — as daughter to Father — through their encounter with the Bible. She is a fellow heir of the grace of life (1 Peter 3:7) and is not to be limited in her access to her Father or his word.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37) was not a command given only to men. Women will be held back from knowing and loving God as fully as they can, if they are held back from forming the habits and skills of reading — not just the skills of a third grade reader, but the skills of discerning the full riches of biblical revelation concerning the great work of the Son of God in his life, death, and resurrection. This is the great work of education.
4. All the roles into which God leads women call for the habits of mind which education is meant to cultivate.
These include the habits of
— observing all things accurately and thoroughly,
— understanding clearly what she has observed,
— evaluating fairly in the discernment of what is true,
— feeling intensely according to the worth of what she has evaluated,
— applying wisely and helpfully in life what she understands and feels,
— and expressing in speech and writing and deeds what she has seen, understood, felt, and applied, in such a way that its accuracy, clarity, truth, value, and helpfulness can be known and enjoyed by others.
Whether she is a church-serving, globally aware, politically awake, neighbor-loving full-time homemaker and mom, or a partner with her husband in breadwinning, or an unmarried career woman, or other role, God’s call on her life is to
These are the aims of a full education. These are the aims of Christian discipleship. These are the aims of Christ-exalting womanhood. Without them our knowledge of Christ, his world, his salvation, his ways in history and our path of obedience will remain immature. God does not call any of his children, men or women, to immaturity. Therefore, he calls them all to a full education.
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, and most recently Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship.
A version of this article previously appeared on the Desiring God website under the headline, “Why We Educate Our Girls”
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