Thursday, October 13, 2011

Another Lesson from Algebra

"he plied Him with many questions, 
but Jesus gave him no answer"
Luke 23:9

Another Algebra lesson today.  A spiritual lesson for me, while I taught an Algebra lesson to my Awesome Girl.   But this was a bit of a backwards lesson.  Sometimes, when I'm parenting or teaching my kids, He gives me a reminder that He is my Father, and my Teacher, and I can see the parallel.  Today, though, I was seeing how very different I am from Him, particularly when it comes to wisdom and understanding.  We try to be like Him, but we are still so very far away from our goal, aren't we?

She and I were working through some problems in Algebra this afternoon, and she needed clarification.  Basically she wanted to know, "how'd you get that answer?"  But in order to tell her how I arrived at the answer, we have to figure out where she got lost.  There are so many steps to solving the problem, and any of them is potential for mistake and confusion.  One misplaced decimal... one forgotten operation... one too many variables....

So I start to explain to her where I think she's gotten lost.  "Okay, well, to find the area of that, you need to multiply pi by the radius squared, then divide by 2.  Then multiply the base times the height, and divide by 2, then multiply that whole thing by 2.  Add that to the area of the other.  Then add up the surface numbers of that part, and multiply by the height, and add that to the part you multiplied, divided and added before!  See?"  And I look up from my paper and see that she's wearing a tolerant expression.  "I know that, Mom, I just don't see where they gave us the height."  "Oh.  Sorry.  It's up there.  10."

The problem is, not being omniscient, I sometimes have to guess at the reason for her confusion.  She, for her part, can't even necessarily pinpoint the reason for her confusion.  Algebra is like that.  So is life, for that matter.  Sometimes we don't even know what it is we don't know.  So I find myself trying to answer a question she's not asking.

Or worse, I answer a question she's not asking, while not answering the question she is answering:
"So then, you subtract --" 
"No, hold on, let me finish.  You subtract the 17 --"  
"No, I know, but Mom..."  
"Hang on, Sweetie.  Subtract that, and add it to the other one, and there you go!" 

And all the while I've been completely ignoring her attempts to correct my understanding of what she needs to hear.

That (among other things) is how I am not like God.  Not hearing, not understanding.  God is, of course, all-knowing, and hears perfectly everything we say to Him.  He also hears perfectly everything we don't say to Him.  I have often found relief in that.  Romans 8:26 says, "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans."

But even more precious to me than His perfect hearing and His perfect understanding, is His perfect speaking.  Do you know what I mean?  Have you ever gone to His Word, with a prayer for understanding on your heart, but what He gives you in His Word doesn't really answer your question?

Take Job, for instance.  For 37 chapters, he begged God for understanding.  But in chapter 38, when God finally started talking, He didn't answer Job's persistent question, "Why?"  Instead, Job got an earful on the topic of God's sovereignty:  "Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place??  Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?  Tell Me if you know this!"

Or Joshua, in chapter 7.  The Israelites had suffered defeat in their attack on the city of Ai, due to sin in their camp.  Joshua fell on his face after their loss, asking God questions:  "Why did You bring across the Jordan to destroy us?  How will I explain your abandonment of us when our enemies hear?"  But God's response is to answer the question Joshua did not ask: "Why did this happen?"  God said in verses 11 and 12, "Israel has sinned.  Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies..."  Joshua's questions were not what mattered.  God told him what he needed to know, even though he hadn't asked.

I think sometimes He does the same for us.  Whether we read the Bible on a yearly schedule, in chronological order or alphabetical order, every time we sit down with His Word, He has something to say to us.  Whether you go to church on Saturday evening or Sunday morning, attend a mid-week Bible or small-group Bible study ~ if you're in His Word, He's got something to say to you.  And if you're only looking for answers to your questions, you might miss His message for you.  Our approach to Scripture should be to receive it as He intends it, not make it fit into the hole we've carved out for it.  Sit down wanting to hear Him, not waving your agenda in His face.  Besides, He's not really as interested in your suggestions as you think He is  ;)

When you're answering, listen carefully to the questions.
But when you're asking, listen carefully to the answers.

~ "As the rain and snow come down from heaven,
and do not return to it without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish...
so is My word that goes out from My mouth:
It will not return to Me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." ~
Isaiah 55:10-11

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