"Siblings, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing." - James 1:2-4a
My high school physics teacher gave us weekly tests. He tried to soften the blow by creating a festive atmosphere. He made us matching t-shirts and let us play a record of our choosing (which is why difficult math always reminds me of the greatest hits of The Police).
But what was most unusual about his tests was that they were impossible. By design. While other exams were written to demonstrate what I already knew, his were intended to lead me beyond.
That week's lessons served as the starting point for Thursday's quiz, but it quickly took off from there. The goal was to see how far we could venture into unknown territory before we were totally lost.
I have often thought of tests of faith like ordinary exams, asking me what I already know, making sure I did the required reading. But I think the test that James writes about is the one that pushes us to go beyond what we have mastered and try something impossible (love our enemies, say, or not judge our friends).
No one ever got an entire problem on our physics tests right. But that wasn't the point. The point, as in faith, was to go to the edge of one's knowing and then push out a little further. To grow by trying something difficult and worthwhile. And I am convinced that God, as my teacher did, gives partial credit.
Teacher, meet me in the place beyond my mastery.
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Vince Amlin is co-pastor of Bethany UCC, Chicago, and co-planter of Gilead Church Chicago, forming now.