Talented youth, higher authority and Nicolas Bourbaki

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Talented youth, higher authority and Nicolas Bourbaki

Think over this quote. “Talented youth, unconstrained by higher authority, is a powerful force.”

What do you think? At first glance, it sounds a bit revolutionary, like something said during one of the French or Russian revolutions. However, the quote, written by Michael Atiyah in a book review, is about the life of Nicolas Bourbaki, who revolutionized not nation-states but mathematics. Or rather, the book is about the individuals who wrote under the pseudonym of Nicolas Bourbaki.

Aside from its context, the quote is still very interesting. The subject is relevant to every student at BJU because it describes us—“talented youth.”

While there are varying degrees of talent, no one can say that they are without talent. God has endowed us all with some degree of talent, and no matter the amount, we should use that talent to our utmost to glorify God.

On this point, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well.”

The next part of the quote (“unconstrained by higher authority”) requires a little more care. As Christians, we have higher authority in our lives—primarily God and, secondarily, earthly authority God has placed over us—Romans 13.

So, does this quote not apply? Are we simply talented youth constrained by higher authority? Well, yes and no. We are bound to obey our authorities, but this doesn’t have to be a restraint. Change the phrase to “talented youth guided by higher authority.” Now, we have a one-eighty-degree turn. Instead, of the higher authority hindering (constraining) us, we are being helped by it.

The first view implies that higher authority constrains you so that you cannot be a powerful force. Like a sapling potted and set inside, the higher authority constrains growth like the ceiling would to the sapling.

However, a talented youth guided by higher authority appears more like a sapling that is braced by wire. The wire guides the sapling, causing it to grow straighter and stronger than it would have by itself.

What a difference. Even a tree unhindered by a ceiling and unguided by wire may grow large. But when guided, there is a better chance for success. And though the unconstrained tree may end up becoming a powerful force, it may not be a good one. It may grow crooked and end up falling in an unwanted direction.

Poor guidance can have the same effect. There are any number of people and self-help books that will give advice. However, we must check this guidance against ultimate truth—God and his communication to us through His Word—to determine if we want to be guided by them.

But, by submitting ourselves—the talented youth—to guidance from higher authority, God and earthly authorities, instead of rebelling against them, we can become a powerful force for God and for the furtherance of His kingdom.