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Monday, July 29, 2013

Reflections on My First Day as a Student at Seminary

I left my hotel room terrified that everything would go wrong: I would get lost. I would be late. I would not be able to keep up with the flow of discussion. I would be too old. Too female. Too far removed from the technology of the classroom so long after my last degree was conferred.

Not everything went wrong. My car sputtered and coughed and acted like it was going to cut off before I made it out of the parking lot--despite having spent four full days with the mechanic before making this trip. But it did pull through and get me to the campus and back. The error code simply says "random, multiple misfires." There is no recommended solution or identification of the source of said misfires. The one and only person I know on the campus right now gave me her phone number. If the car dies, either she or her husband will come get me to take me to and from class for the week.

I arrived on campus in enough time, despite that little incident, and I'm thankful I wasn't late, because the class had been moved at the last moment--and not just moved to a different room or floor, but all the way to a different building. I had time to find it. I wasn't late. I'm not too old. I'm right smack in the middle of the age range of attendees. There are 30 students in this class. I took my own little census to try to find some way to make myself fit it. (You know that "Christ is what we have in common" mantra? Yeah, well, I'm human too. I'm still looking for my own demographic everywhere I go--some outward evidence that I might really belong.)

The class is roughly 30% female and 70% male. About 15% are African American, 5% Asian, and the rest Caucasian. The age range runs from one who appears to be very early 20s all the way up to one or more in their late 60s or perhaps even beyond. But the bulk of the attendees appear to me to be between 35 and 45, with the next largest group in the late 20s to early 30s. So it's a good mix and there's nothing to make me stand out as unusual within it.

The atmosphere is very casual. Even the profs are far more relaxed in their appearances and presentations than they were when I visited during the regular semester last fall. Dr. Brad Matthews, a lanky, dead-pan, seminary version of Jeff Goldblum some 20 or more years ago, wore flip-flops. The typically straight-laced and formal Dr. Mike Williams  was in an untucked polo and denim-colored Converse. (Yeah, I'm wearing mine tomorrow.) They wandered around the room and sat on desks or backwards chairs much of the time, rather than lingering too long stationed on the platform behind a podium.

We took only one short break--less than 5 minutes--in the entire 3.5 hour class, and covered a great deal of material on the subject of man's Calling, Vocation, and Work in this created world. By necessity, an intensive class has to always be moving forward. And so I left with one main and consuming realization:

One does not come to seminary to find answers. One comes to raise more questions.

There is no way in a week of classes I can possibly begin to address all the new thoughts, connections, questions that have been raised in my own mind from just the 3.5 hours of lecture and discussion! It's a torrent of information and the class must stay on focus--the tangents and derivatives simply cannot be followed, explored, taken until scripture says, "Stop. This is a dead end, or a complete revelation." And so, while I loved the class for sure, I am also very heavy hearted. I have so many expectations to surrender.

A seminary education, even if I manage to make it all the way through this degree program, won't even be a drop in the bucket of the largeness of who God is and all that he is doing, has been doing, will continue to do in the history he is writing. But one new thought that was presented today by Dr. Matthews brings some comfort. And that is that our existence and work in God's creation never ends. It never ends.

I realized that I've tended to think of eternity in God's presence as a sort of static existence. You die, you enter his presence, you're finally transformed, and with that transformation, not only is your sin all gone, but your knowledge is somehow immediately updated. Mysteries revealed like uploading a file to a server. Click! Now you know. Then you get on with this sort of static state of "glorifying" him and it all seems so repetitive and vague to me: How does that work out in the reality of the eternal new creation?

But Brad said, no, teleologically, there is no end to our work. Eternity is infinity. God made the first creation good. It wasn't broken then. But even so, he put mankind in it to change it--to work it, tend it, keep it, take dominion over it. Man's efforts in creation would bring about change, and if there was no sin and rebellion, then those efforts would have been moving that creation forward, further and further toward something else, also good, even more mature. We can't grasp that in our black & white thinking. Good always ends with a "period" in our thinking, but that's not the case really. (Genesis even tells us this. All was good. Then God made man, and then woman, and it still got better. Very good. But even that wasn't intended to be the end. Obedient mankind's work as vice regents would continue making it even better. A gift of being a subcreator!)

And so it is with eternity, renewed earth, transformed image bearers, in his presence forever. I am eternal and all of us will be eternally moving even the new, repaired creation toward something more perfect, more mature, more complete--because God who creates is infinite! And we will be always knowing God more as we do this work in the new creation. The new creation will continue, forever, to offer us opportunity to change it, but perfectly, because we will then be conformed to the image of Christ, who is THE IMAGE of GOD, and we will then be incorruptible. So the muddying of our present-day insights, the harmfulness (at worst) or uncertainty (at best) of our actions will all be removed. We will act in clarity and growing knowledge and understanding, forever.

So it doesn't matter that I can't get everything answered and discovered and connected here, in a week-long class, or in a multi-year degree program, or even in an 80-year life. In fact, this reality of the impossibility of squaring it all away now is a reflection of the great truth that I will NEVER exhaust the knowledge of the mysteries of God, not even in his presence in my fully redeemed state. He is revealing, yes. But there is so much to him that the exploration and revelation continue infinitely, as we act and change his creation, as vice regents acting out our image-bearer status again in his presence incorruptible.

And part of the corruption that will be gone is this frustration of my own finite limits in understanding, in time, in resources. No longer will the creation or the creatures be subjected to that frustration. And the aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit that is joy and patience bound together will feed one another in a sense of total fulfillment, because each inexhaustible moment will be presenting more of the fullness of the knowledge of the one I am made to crave.


Carolynn Markey said...

I enjoyed your post. I really want to take Greek and Hebrew :) you fit so many thoughts into a paragraph, its like I get the big picture. I wish you luck in your studies!

--Rebecca said...

Thank you, Carolynn. It's good to hear from you again.

I totally understand about wanting to take the biblical languages. I won't get to do that, but I do love Greek etymology especially. However, I am always being reminded to be careful of committing the "root fallacy," translating a word based on its parts instead of its common usage. And yet... word roots reveal so much. I can't accept that it is always a fallacy to do that.

Today was a hard day. I long for greater discussion and exploration and it's all so rushed. Plus, I'm rather lonely here. Pray for me, if you wouldn't mind? I want to get so much out of this class while I can be here on site. Thanks for reading. Blessings to you!