The Student, The Fish, and Agassiz

The Student, The Fish, and Agassiz

The value of repetition.

Have you ever read the wonderful anecdote titled “The Student, the Fish, and Agassiz?”  If not, I suggest that you take a moment to do so at some point in your life – it can be found on a myriad of websites online, and I’ve linked to it above.  As a teaching resource, it’s often used as a summary on the importance of first-hand observation; how it’s far better to rely on your own exposition and experience, rather than on someone else’s account of a particular event or topic.

The story takes place from the point of view of a student of natural history after he first enrolled in the course and told a professor what his goals were in the study.  The professor pulls down a specimen of fish, and instructs the student to begin inspecting it.  At first, the student is a little miffed at the overall unpleasantness of the situation, and sees it as nothing more than a fish.  His ultimate goal, you see, is to be well versed in the study of insects, and the idea of staring at a fish for hours on end seems rather… pointless.

Throughout his study of this fish (which goes on for some days, I might add) the professor often quizzes him on what he sees, never quite satisfied with the  responses and observations of the student, but never unsatisfied either.  With constant admonition and insistence that he “Look, look!” again at the fish, he pushes the student to further his observation of the fish until he can fully comprehend it!

The thing is, though, every time he studies it more, he notices something new.  Something as plain and, well, unbecoming, as a fish in a jar of preservative slowly begins to become fascinating and full of secrets waiting to be discovered.  This ‘power of observation’ that the student begins to develop will, of course, be of great value to him when he begins his study of insects, but there’s more to it than that.  He continues to study the fish, and it continues to impart new secrets to him!  Not only does he experience it first hand, he also experiences it at a deeper and deeper level.

So, too, should it be with our study of Scripture.  We won’t get much depth from a ‘first pass,’ and in some cases we may even find it uninteresting or unappealing.  With repeated visits, however, as we grow more familiar with it, little nuances that we may have missed begin to appear and make their way to the surface.  While we can be helped along with the process by a pastor or a small group leader, unless we are willing to undertake the journey on our own, we will never truly appreciate the true depth and scope of the Word of God.

How do you study Scripture?  Do you spend quality time, alone, with the Word?  I’d challenge you this week to go and read something that you are already ‘familiar’ with, and ask that God would show you something new.


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