I remember one of the Ohio University Education faculty telling our junior class about one of her teaching experiences as a rookie teacher fresh out of college. We were preparing for student teacher opportunities and she wanted to “toughen us up, I guess” for what we might face.
She told us that before she taught her first class in an inner city school, a seasoned teacher gave her this advice: “Make students think you’re as mean as a bear for the first month. That way they will appreciate it more when you finally smile.”
She decided to ignore the older teacher’s suggestion and told her tenth grade English students that she wanted to make the class enjoyable for all. She wanted them to love language, writing, and the classics as much as she did. To accomplish that she thought she had to make class fun.
But as it turned out, fun for her students turned into work for her.
They mistook kindness for weakness, mercy for leniency, and patience for get-away-with-all-sorts-of-stuff. They became disrespectful, disobedient, and delinquent, and not to mention downright “mean as a bear” in a few cases. She became angry, frustrated, and short-tempered.
One day after another failed attempt to get them to be quiet, she blurted out, “Oh, you make me so mad! You make me feel just like God.” Her statements stunned the class into silence. “You make me feel like God,” she said, “because everything I intended for your good you use against me. I don’t want to be angry or harsh with you. But if that’s what it takes for you to learn, that’s what will have to be.”
In telling our college class the story, she explained that her students were not the first to exploit goodness for selfish purposes. She said the Bible included many stories, songs, and prayers about God’s experiences with His people, the Israelites, as examples of teachable moments.
Read Nehemiah 9.
Verse 30 captures the scene so clearly when Nehemiah wrote, “For many years you were patient with them…yet they paid you no attention.” Nehemiah’s prayer of confession starts with the goodness of God, extols His care and provision, and ends repeatedly being interrupted by human failure and unfaithfulness. Be careful, though, not to judge the Hebrews too harshly.
We know by our own experience (and by reading human history) that the human condition did not improve even after Jesus personally demonstrated how to live life best. The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome, “Do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, tolerance, and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” (2:4)
It is easy to conclude that God’s goodness to us is a sign of our own goodness. But that is a wrong and dangerous assumption. His goodness should lead us to repentance, not to pride. Examine your life carefully. Does the goodness of God lead you to humility or arrogance? Obedience or disobedience? Generosity or selfishness? Patience or impatience?
Live communally. Goodness begins and ends with God. One proof of a Christ-like faith is how you treat others (1 John 3:16-18). May you reflect His goodness to others because you choose to.
Love is a verb,
©2014 by Mike Olejarz