“Mr. Manfredi, why didn't God just send Jesus right after the Fall? Why didn't He just nip this whole sin thing in the bud?”
“Why did he even bother with all these covenants before Jesus and just get to the real deal?”
“Why is the Bible so cryptic? If God wants us to understand it, why not just put it more simply?”
These are the kinds of questions a high school theology teacher who teaches the Scriptures hears everyday. To be sure, these are good questions. They display a higher level of thinking. These kinds of questions indicate that the wheels are turning, someone is home, there are signs of life. I love these questions.
Perhaps I love them so much because they are often very difficult to answer and I love a challenge. Mostly, I love these questions because the students are clearly in the midst of learning something immeasurably valuable.
They are learning to deal with the dissatisfaction and frustration that studying scripture often brings.
They are learning the virtue of patience.
Patience is a struggle for students who are accustomed to having their questions answered instantaneously. They are used to immediate gratification in all areas of their life. Most of us are. The Scriptures, however, does not allow for the quick fix they crave. In fact, it works against it. Scripture trains us to wait, to dwell with the text, to struggle. That is the point of salvation history in fact.
We are meant to ask questions to which the answers may not come as soon as we would like. The Bible causes us to ponder, to think about what the text says, what it means, and what God is trying to teach us in this moment. It is meant to dissatisfy us at times. The Bible obfuscates our plans and expectations because God’s ways are not our own and that frustrates us. This is difficult for an adult to appreciate, but for a sixteen year old, it is a Sisyphean task.
Luckily, scripture also provides us with the example for how to tackle it.
Israel is constantly being taught patience and trust as they wander through the desert, reside in captivity, and await the Messiah. The story of salvation is one of faithful waiting and not-so-faithful doing. The Israelites “wrestle” with faith, with hope, with their ability as a people to follow God’s will.
Indeed, Israel means “one who wrestles with God.” Israel provides us with the preeminent example of what it means to be patient, to allow God to work through us, and of what happens when we try to take control and force a quick and superficial depth of understanding.
It is through this continuous struggle that Israel is trained to be comfortable with being uncomfortable; cultivating not only the virtue of patience but faith as well. It is through the reading of the Bible too that we learn this kind of discipline today.
Teaching the Scriptures has taught me a great deal about patience as well. I have learned the need to wait, to pause, and allow my students to struggle with the text and “wrestle” with God. I have learned to facilitate and provide an environment where my students can encounter the Lord through His Word.
I have learned to allow my students to be dissatisfied with the current answer or no answer at all; that I do not always have to provide them with an exact explanation for every question posed. It is not always on me. God is always working in our midst. Sometimes, we must simply wait and see.