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Duality of Wisdom

To continue thoughts from my previous post on training students for the impersonal expectations in the working world, I struggle with being the bad cop, busting their chops for what seem like peccadilloes. In grad school, my roommates called me “Mr. Soft Love.” They would not so name me now. I am much harder, more “Mr. Tough Love.”

As followers of Christ, we are not called to be nice, we are called to be good, holy and righteous. But I would rather be nice. Yet, it goes deeper than that.

As Christians, we are to show compassion, mercy and grace. Mercy is not giving as one rightly deserves. Grace is unmerited favor. Being hard on students doesn’t seem to fit in with that. However, I am not training my students to enter a Christian world of work, but the real, fallen, dog-eat-dog world.

So in many ways, I feel like I’m training them in worldly wisdom, not ‘the wisdom from above.’ James 3 contrasts the two:
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

But here’s the trick. Paul speaks of how God disciplines us and yet, with full awareness of our true limits, and never pushes us beyond them. In the intense film, Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket,” the drill sergeant is terribly hard on all of the recruits, but none more so than one poor guy who is overweight and probably not the most intelligent. The recruit finds an out in the rifle range where he becomes the best shot of the entire group, but rage is building inside until it explodes one night in the latrine where he blows the sergeant away, and then himself. This is not the mark of heavenly wisdom.

It is incumbent on me to push my students to excel, even at times to make them ‘run the bleachers’ academically speaking. But I must also be careful to read the students well, to know when they are approaching the limits I can appropriately reach, and then extending the mercy and grace to allow them to recover, with their dignity intact.

Perhaps it is in this also we find reason in James’ warning about not all seeking to be teachers. While he is talking about those who teach spiritual truths from a recognized place of authority in the church, it also does apply to us as educators. It is said that “those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” While there is unfortunately too much truth in this in practice, having been outside of the ivory tower for just a few years before my current position has revolutionized my teaching priorities. I see my role as a trainer, a coach, pushing them in practice so they are conditioned for the game—their careers. So not only do I have to be able to speak the material as I ought, per James’ example, I also must help them, as Paul says, in buffeting their {intellect} so they are not boxing air fruitlessly.

In this, I do find mercy, letting them learn and make mistakes in a safer environment where the consequences are minor rather than risking home and family.

Every so often, the wisdom of the world and God’s wisdom appear to line up for a stretch, so people perhaps every so often find themselves accidentally on the right path. Maybe I can help them stay on it.


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