My younger brother recently asked me an intriguing question: “If you died right now—like, if you dropped dead in front of me—do you think you’d go to heaven?” I didn’t know if he was joking or serious (I can never really tell), so I took the safe way out: “Um, yeah. I’d like to think so.”
In retrospect, I wish I had been more thoughtful in my response. After all, this matter of eternal salvation or damnation, or whether such things even exist—what could be more worthy of my attention and scrutiny? Had I pondered my brother’s question for a moment longer, I suspect that this passage from 2 Peter 1 would have come to mind:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Herein lies the answer to my brother’s question, or at least the flowchart for reaching the answer. Do I possess the qualities of virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love? Are they ever increasing, and do I make an effort to follow them diligently? If so, then my entrance into the eternal kingdom is assured. If not, well… another place is waiting for me.
It forces me to reflect on my actions, decisions, thoughts, and experiences from this past year. And, truth be told, these qualities have not been very evident in my life. To be sure, I have grown and learned more than in any other period of my life. But in my treatment of both friends and strangers, in my treatment of myself, in my constantly-shifting attitude towards work and my future, I’ve come to realize that I’m as far from perfect as I’ve ever been. It’s simultaneously humbling and motivating; yes, I have a long way to go, but surely Christ can guide my steps to become more and more like Him—if I sincerely seek it.
[NB: This is assuredly not an argument for salvation by works. Rather, it is the acknowledgement that once salvation has been received by faith, it must be accompanied by a radical shift in one's outlook and lifestyle.]
Returning to 2 Peter, this time to chapter 3, the urgency and poignancy of the apostle’s message becomes clear:
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
It makes me wonder, what exactly am I doing here? What is my deepest and most pressing responsibility as a teacher? The ability to factor quadratic equations or graph sinusoidal functions—even the vaunted capacity to approach complex quantitative problems with boldness and persistence—what weight do these things hold in light of the imminent coming of the Lord, and, in the meantime, the call to love our neighbors with a love that is patient, kind, and such? It’s a delicate balancing act, because I know that by being an effective math teacher (I hope), I am loving my students and giving them a better chance at this life. Yet I long to teach them of that which is eternal, the things that remain when all mysteries and all knowledge have passed away.
Alas, the musings of a burnt-out first-year teacher at the start of the new year.
It is indeed a new year, and with the new year comes new year resolutions. I used to think that setting resolutions was a fool’s errand, a battle of attrition against the will that one was bound to lose by February or March. However, I made a believer of myself last year, when the resolutions that I set helped me get back in shape, finish my senior thesis, and even sleep a little more every night. In view of what I’ve learned about setting big goals (hah) in the past few months, here are my ambitious, feasible, and measurable goals for 2012:
- Exercise at least 4 times per week. The fourth workout per week can be at home, as long as I follow a CrossFit WOD.
- Consume 1800 (balanced) calories per day. The concept of portion control horrifies me, yet I know that it’s necessary to reverse some of the effects of this past semester.
- Read the bible for at least 20 minutes per day. I mean really read, and reflect, not skim while lying half-asleep in bed.
- Complete every lesson plan at least 1 day before I intend to teach it. This is to avoid the panic of frantically lesson planning at 7:30 am on the day of.
- Learn at least 1 new scale on the guitar per month and figure out how to use it while playing.
- Blog at least once every 2 weeks.
That seems sufficient for now. Happy new year everyone, and to my fellow CMs, best wishes for the return from winter break.