Yesterday, Sunday, I was in a village where I heard this interesting story given in a message to the youth of the Bethesda church-fellowship by one of our senior elders.
The story goes like this. There were three proud Bengali professors, from the famous University of Calcutta, who had gone on a research trip to the wilds of Assam. This was long ago, during the time when the British ruled India, and Assam was still wild country with plenty of forests, and where tea-plantations had just sprung up. These respectable gentleman hired an Assamese boatman to cross the river Brahmaputra near a place called Guwahati. The river was in flood because it was monsoon time. Seeing the green and varied foliage on the river-bank, as the boatman rowed the boat across the river, one of the professors who had written a book on the mangroves of Bengal asked him, “Boatman, do you know anything about botany?”The boatman answered, “Sir, I am an illiterate man. I do not know what you mean by botany!” The professor answered, “I am sorry for you. If you don’t know botany, a quarter of your life is wasted.” The boatman felt unhappy with this remark.
They rowed on for half an hour or so, and they had not yet come to the middle of the river. But there were some small islands in the river, which they passed by. Against the backdrop of the hills by the distant river-bank, the islands looked beautiful in the late evening light. It was really a broad and fascinating river to cross. Then another professor who had written a book on the migmatites and granites in the hills of North Bengal, asked, “Boatman, do you know anything about geography?” The boatman replied, “Sir, I said I am a poor illiterate man. I never heard of the word before.” The professor said, “Oh, you fool, if you don’t know geography, or for that matter geology, half your life is wasted.” The boatman began to feel more depressed than before.
As the boat came to the centre of the river, it became dusk and a few stars peeped out of the sky above. The third professor who spent a lot of time observing the night sky through his telescope and was writing a book on one of the constellations (which, incidentally, was also his zodiacal birth-sign; he being an astrologer also), asked, “Boatman, you keep rowing looking down. Have you ever looked up into the twilight sky? I’m sure you must have heard of astronomy?” The boatman replied, “Sir, forgive me. I am ignorant. I work hard for a living. I have a family to feed. I have never been to school. I never heard this word astronomy before.” The professor said, “I am very sorry for you, because if you haven’t studied astronomy, you’ve missed out three quarters of your life! It is lost and wasted!” The poor boatman was already down in the dumps hearing the criticisms of the earlier professors, but the sharp indictment of the third professor shocked him. Three-fourths of his life gone! He raised his hands in despair, letting go of his oar. The oar floated away. Immediately the current swept the boat down the river. The professors were alarmed. The boat struck what seemed to be a sandbar or a rock and was rapidly filling up with water. It was about to capsize.
Then the boatman cried out, “Sirs, does any of you know anything about swimming?” The professors replied altogether, “No!” Then the boatman, knowing the one thing that was needful for any boatman crossing large flooded rivers in flimsy boats, shouted, as he jumped out of the boat, “Alas, I am sorry, most learned masters, then all of your life, yes 100%, is lost and wasted!”™
This story was given in the context of knowing God in a practical way. We have a loving and powerful Saviour who works daily in the lives of His children. What is the use of all our head-knowledge, our theories and philosophies and theology and science, when we do not know the living Christ? When we have never experienced His peace in our hearts and His loving Presence in our lives? When we have never received answers to our prayers? Do we know the true and living God?