Students, Grades, Cars, and Christ
© 28 Dec 2014 Luther Tychonievich
Licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
other posts

What price was there for Christ to pay, and if he paid it why should I bother obeying him?


I am, by career and inclination, an instructor. This includes the necessity of assigning grades. How to assign these is not an obvious, a topic I have posted about several times (e.g., posts 240, 244, 309, and 416). But one way or another, it is commonly the case that if a student does really poorly on the first few assignments and exams they cannot achieve an A no matter how well they do thereafter.

Sometimes a student who has, by demonstrating lack of understanding early on, forfeited any chance at an A during a semester will come talk to me about making it up. Their request is, in essence, “‍will you forgive my poor performance?‍” With these students I find myself torn. My first interest is to not give them a higher grade than their understanding merits; but ideally that would allow for what Benjamin Bloom termed “‍mastery learning‍”: I re-administer evaluations until the student shows as much mastery of the material as they are going to achieve. However, I am just one person and have just the normal allotment of 168 hours per week and evaluations take time. So, being finite, sometimes I say “‍yes‍” and other times “‍no‍” to this request for forgiveness, as my ability permits and the student’s situation suggests.

I often find myself making similar kinds of requests of God. As Luke recorded Christ’s suggested words, “‍and forgive us our sins.‍” Indeed, forgiveness being something we need from Christ is a common theme in much of scripture. Fortunately for us, He, being God, has infinite resources and another try is almost That there are conditions to forgiveness is a point worth exploring, but not in this post. always granted.

Before continuing, an observation about the classroom aspect of life. I am always surprised at the breadth of views on what the purpose of life is even within Christianity, but it seems to me that if people like you and I are let into heaven as we are now then it wouldn’t remain a very heavenly place very long. I suspect Christ’s admonition “‍be ye therefore perfect‍” is more than just a nice idea and that He can no more send us to Heaven by overlooking our sins than I can grant my students aptitude in programming by overlooking mistakes.

However, whatever you think about the purpose of life the classroom analogy does not capture one important aspect of Christ’s gift to us. When I teach students I intentionally give them a safe place to play; nothing they program has the ability to really hurt much of anything. But not all topics can be taught that way. Although simulations may one day change this, a student driver has to learn to drive using an actual car. A mistake there can destroy property or even life. The teacher who lets a destructive student try again and again needs more than just the time to re-administer the test; there is also damage to repair and cars to replace and lost lives to somehow handle. It would take a sponsor with deep pockets and lots of influential connections to let a child learn to drive in Manhattan.

It is very difficult to live life without damaging others. Almost everything we do has the potential for far-reaching negative impact. If I tell one of those students who ask me how to repair their grade “‍sorry, I can’t help you‍” I might damage their ability to believe they can succeed not just in my class but in life in general; conversely, if I say “‍sure, we can re-administer the exam‍” I might teach them to ignore consequences and spur them on the road to idleness or worse. Part of the miracle of Christ’s atonement/crucifixion is that He not only can forgive us and let us try again but he can also repair our wrongs, giving the souls I damage a road to joy despite my worst efforts.

That paid price has at least two aspects. Often I am the culprit of the mess and watch in stunned humility as Christ fixes what I broke; but I am also sometimes the victim of my own or others errors and watch in frank amazement as He opens a way for me. David A Bednar called these two views the “‍redeeming‍” vs “‍enabling‍” aspect of the atonement David A. Bednar (2001-10-23) “‍In The Strength of the Lord‍” BYU Devotional ; C. S. Lewis suggested it when he observed that the Psalmist cried for Justice rather than the more common Christan cry for Mercy C. S. Lewis (1958) “‍II ‘‍Judgement‍’ in the Psalms‍” Reflections on the Psalms pp. 9–19. ISBN 0-15-676248-X . As I see it, these two are one: the justice that enables me despite the wrongs committed against me is the mercy that redeems those who stepped on my toes.

Looking for comments…

Loading user comment form…