Tolkien, Lewis, and the Blessing of a Messy Desk

Michael J. Kruger

Last week I finished a key portion of one of my research projects. And then I did what I normally do during such times (indeed, it is coming a bit of a tradition)—I cleaned up the colossal mess that I had made.

Before it was all said and done, books were strewn all over my desk, across my computer table, on the floor (on both sides of my desk), and up against the wall.

My wife stopped by the office with the kids and was so aghast at the chaos that she snapped [a picture] and sent it out on Twitter.

After I had finally cleaned up my desk–and returned a couple of cart fulls of books to the library—I began to reflect on my life with a messy desk. What did it mean, if anything? Most likely, it means that I am just disorganized and absentminded—like many other professors.

But as I looked at the picture, I found a sense of joy in the chaos of my office. It reminded me of what I love about being a professor of biblical studies—the joy of learning and discovering the endless treasures that God has for us in his Word, and in the world that he has made. The messy desk was (to me at least) a sign of how thrilling theological study can be. The stacks of books were a symbol of the creative intellectual potential God has given each of us.

Of course, many in the church today have lost the passion for serious intellectual pursuit of the Christian faith.  Indeed, in many circles, such intellectual pursuits are viewed critically and suspiciously. Academically-minded people are all head and no heart, one might think. Sure, they love ideas but they don’t really love people.

But the Scriptures themselves (not to mention the history of the church) are not willing to draw such a sharp dichotomy between mind and heart. Christ called us to love the Lord our God with both our heart and our mind.

Even more, Christians throughout the ages—particularly in the time of the Reformation—viewed serious intellectual engagement as a way to glorify God.  Although Christianity was available (and understandable) for even the uneducated, it was deep enough and robust enough for the most sophisticated philosopher.

After a little snooping around, I was encouraged to see two intellectual giants of the 20th century—J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis—both had messy desks. And their intellectual achievements went beyond the stodgy halls of academia, but affected the hearts of millions through their fictional works.

Even in the non-Christian world, a messy desk is often associated with a love of learning. Albert Einstein once said, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

As I think especially about pastors today, my hope is that when parishioners enter their study they would see a desk piled high with books. And that those parishioners would know that their pastor is a thinker, has a passion for the Word, and is eager to pursue God with his mind, as well as his heart.

Of course, there are some pastors out there—rare though they may be—who love books and still find a way to have a clean desk. Well, if that’s you, then well done. You are neater than the rest of us.

But if you had left the books on your desk, you would’ve had even more time for study.


For more, visit Dr. Kruger's website: Canon Fodder.

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