Do you remember what it was like at school? What I remember is the smell of the classroom, and even now, when I ever smell that same smell, it fills me with a sort of pleasure and a dread at the same time. I was always afraid that I would not understand; would not be able to cope with the questions I was asked. It made me anxious and apprehensive, especially in the infant and junior school. I got less anxious as I grew up and, later, when I went to the senior school, it was easier because I learned mechanisms to cope with it, but I always thought that I would be overwhelmed with the information the teacher would give, and I went into a small panic inside.
Perhaps you were the same … I know that many are. They have the feeling that they do not have the intellect or the ability to take in or retain what is being taught, and somehow they will be shown up in front of the others, all of whom understand everything perfectly. Such are the fears of when we are young.
What do we feel about subjects that we have to face all our lives?
Dealing with forms, for example. All through our lives we have to complete forms. There is always someone who wants to know about us, and where we live, and what is our number for this or that, and when did we live here and there, and work for so-and-so, and on what dates ,and how much did we earn, and were we ever ill and have to go into hospital, and what exactly was wrong with us, and when were we in the hospital from when till when?
Goodness only knows what people do with all this information, and yet they keep on asking and want us to prove our birth and see our birth certificate and marriage certificate and what is our cedula number and can we prove that we are alive and the person on the certificate is really us?
When such forms come to me I have to put them down for a while because my first thought is that I will never be able to remember or find all the information they require. Only when I have calmed a little, can I sit down and go slowly through what they want to know and find out the answers requested. Usually they aren’t so bad, and yet they fill me with that same dread and anxiety that I faced as a little child going to school for the first time.
I didn’t feel so intimidated by church. From being quite young, I went to church on a Sunday morning, and then had Sunday School in the afternoon, and then to Church again for Evensong in the evening. From the age of seven, I joined the choir and left the Sunday School, but had choir practice instead twice a week. The Psalter had the psalms numbered in Roman numerals and I enjoyed learning how to read them. It felt like a secret code. The anthems and hymns taught me a great deal about theology and the bible. It wasn’t always correct theology, but in a way that didn’t matter. It did at least set me on the path to understanding and thinking about what it meant.
Paul writing to the Ephesians says to them, “I pray that you may have the power to comprehend with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Well I can see and understand the love of God, and I also see how we oppose that love by the way we act. I don’t know that I understand it all. I think I have a lot to learn yet, but I am not intimidated by the learning. It is one of the few subjects that doesn’t fill me with alarm. Maybe it is because I don’t feel I am in competition with anyone. I am allowed to learn more or less at my own pace, but I also have that feeling that it is a subject I cannot relinquish.
There is, however, a danger in this also. To have no pressure, no competition, to learn at our own rate can mean to stop bothering altogether. To put it off until another time that is more convenient, except that this time never arrives. If we are to seek more knowledge of Christ and of our faith, and if we are to grow in grace, we will certainly not achieve all these by doing nothing, studying nothing, understanding nothing. If we understand that it was the love of Christ that bought us our freedom, our pardon and our hope it might be supposed that we have a vested interest in living as completely as we can in that love.
Yet there is precious little evidence that many Christians spend much time in trying to discover how efficiently that can live within the love of God. On the contrary, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Christians live their lives pretty much the same as everyone else does, including those who believe in nothing at all. That implies that what we hear in church has no real or deep effect in our behavior. In other words Christians are not living in the love of Christ at all, but simply living in the world according to the rules of the world. That is a depressing state of affairs, if it is true.
We may not be the first to be like this. The disciples, for reasons that are not altogether clear, are portrayed in the New Testament as people who are more than a bit stupid and are incapable of learning the lessons that Jesus patiently puts to them. They experience all that he does in healing and help and then complain, according to John, (6:66) that his teaching is difficult.
Is that how we are? We hear from the readings what he did, we are taught in countless different ways what he is like, we must surely experience in our lives what he does in the world and yet when it comes to the crunch we plead ignorance and non understanding so that we can live like everyone else as though Christ had never come and never redeemed us.
We all know that Jesus says that we need to become like little children but we need to know what he means when he says this. A day will come when we might wish we had learned a little more because we cannot claim for ever that if Jesus says we must be like children we therefore must stay at the level of the kindergarten also. When we run forward with the children he will surely give us a strange look and say, “you are a bit big to be claiming the place of a child are you not?”