The other day, I gave a test in all of my classes. In the midst of this, I discovered a student cheating on the test. As I spoke with the student and some details were revealed, I found that I wasn’t angry with the student. I simply felt this incredible sadness.
I always want to be able to trust my students. When something happens that betrays that trust, I find myself a bit frustrated and sad. I don’t want to doubt what they tell me or question their integrity. But they are humans and sometimes humans cheat or lie.
During the rest of the day, this incident weighed on my mind. I was sad and disappointed with this student but also with students in general. Cheating is something I do not understand. Perhaps because I enjoyed school and generally like a challenge, but I could never see myself cheating in school. In middle school and parts of high school, people thought I was semi-ridiculous for how cautiously I guarded my paper during tests or quizzes. I didn’t want to be the unknowing person from whom others stole their answers. Some of my students have a very different perspective.
So I began to wonder how God takes in the continually disappointing behaviors of humanity. It is a love that I cannot comprehend because it is truly a love without condition. My love is conditional. I have a great affection for my students, but when confronted with their weaknesses and their imperfections, I struggle with how to move forward. I know a single action does not define who they are, but it shapes how I perceive them. How can the Lord look at us in the midst of every sin and love us wholly and entirely?
I want to look at them and tell them of my disappointment. I want to tell them that I cannot believe they made that bad decision. I want to ask them how they think I can trust them again. While I do not believe the Lord wants me to have the same exact response that He has, it makes me consider the vast distance between how I love and how Christ loves.
Surely, He must have an ache in His heart when we sin. Yet in the greatness of His love, He has no room for wanting to give up on us. Instead of looking at us with disappointment, He has a gaze of love. He sees how the sins we cling to and commit repeatedly hurt us and separate us from His loving embrace. Rather than shaking His head in frustration, His arms are wide open to love and receive us, just as we are.
I want to love others in such a simple, big-hearted way. Of course, I am not God and so I do not have His goodness and profound love. But I want to mirror Him as much as possible. Naturally, there are consequences to our sins and so students cheating must also yield consequences. Yet what if my response to their failings proved to be a way that God loves them through me? What if by being merciful I revealed to them a glimpse of the ocean of mercy that is God?
In His great wisdom, God can use all sin and evil to bring about a greater good. How beautiful would that be if I could be a part of it.
Jacob said, “No, I pray you, if I have found favor in your sight, then accept my present from my hand; for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God, with such favor have you received me.”