BY REV. CLINT LOVEALL - SPIRIT LAKE FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
In the spring of 2010 one of the hardest academic tests in the world got slightly easier. The entrance exam to the All Souls College of Oxford University has, for over 100 years, been used to narrow a field of around 50 applicants to the select few who receive fellowships and stipends to pursue a study course of their own choosing. It has been referred to often as the most difficult test in the world. Sample questions include queries like: Did the left or the right win the 20th century? Is gender a social construct? Was there an ethical dimension to Roman foreign policy? Was Chaucer a humanist?
However, the most daunting part of the test (the part they dropped in 2010) was the final essay, a required three-hour reflection that was to show thoughtful mastery and explore the meaning(s) of a single word printed on an otherwise blank card. Imagine three hours of writing on the profound implications of “innocence,” “miracles,” or “water” with no guidance and no advanced warning of the topic. No wonder not many take the test each year, and no wonder only a very few are judged to “pass.”
Most of us get the concept, I suppose. First you take the test and then you find out if you pass. The methods have changed through the years from chalkboards and spoken spelling tests to online assessments and computerized grade reports, but the concept is basically unchanged. First you take the test and then later you get the result.
Oddly enough though, life often works just the opposite. You get married, and then you find out if you can be a good spouse. You have a child, and then you see if you can learn to be a good parent. You get a job, then find out if you can do the work. In many parts of life outside of school, the test comes after you get the part.
Faith may be the best example of all. When you come to Christ, you get an A; you pass with flying colors. Turning to Jesus means you have been judged worthy in his name. Your life has been wrapped in his and you have no fear of your failures being the final verdict because God’s grace is the big red 100 percent written large on the top of your page. You passed for sure.
Then comes the test!
After you know you passed, that’s when you’re tested. It’s what comes after grace that tests us. Can you forgive? Can you let Jesus guide your words and your actions? Can you love people that are hard to love, or that no one else does? Can you hold onto hope and joy in dark times? Can you tell the truth about yourself and face your own biases, failures, dark spots and selfishness? Can you admit being wrong?
It’s everything that comes after you get graded worthy that makes up the test of faith. You get an A in Christ’s name, and then you get invited to live, in Christ’s name, like a person who can pass the test. The good news, in God’s mercy, is that you passed. Now go and live like the good news matters!