My wife, Becky, teaches fourth grade, and she’ll tell you her students don’t always give the right answers.
She’s firm with the children, but she makes room for grace. She forgives some misspelled words because she says it’s more important to get the facts right, unless, of course, those misspellings affect accuracy.
For instance, she once quizzed her class to name the group of California-bound settlers who turned to cannibalism after becoming snowbound in the Sierra Nevada in 1846.
While she accepted alternative spellings for the Donner Party, she had to draw the line when one student spelled it the Dinner Party.
Another student offered a more hopeful explanation saying the party was a celebration over the discovery of water in the desert.
But the assignment I found the most interesting as a spiritual columnist was the one in which she asked her class to write about something they did wrong.
From the response she got, you’d have thought she was teaching Sunday school.
Several kids returned their essays matter-of-factly stating they’d never been in trouble.
Becky responded to her angelic darlings by reminding them of the list she kept on the blackboard, her list of kids missing recess for their bad behavior during the week.
As adults, we are more sophisticated in our denials. We employ at least four strategies for denying our guilt in much more subtle ways.
First, we’ll often answer questions about our own wrongdoings by diverting the blame to some other person or circumstance using the famous, “My dog ate my homework” excuse. This is the excuse Adam gave God when he explained he ate the forbidden fruit because Eve gave it to him.
Or sometimes we answer with the half truth: “I did it, but I’m not responsible for all of it.” We don’t mind some guilt as long as we have company.
Still, sometimes, we go back to the fourth grade and play the ignorance card. We say, “I didn’t know better.” This strategy is much like the kid who’ll pull the fire alarm on final exam day to escape the test. We don’t know the answer, so we create an escape from our ignorance.
Finally, when we’re asked a really tough question — like “What makes you so angry?” — we play the comparison game and say, “Yes, I have a bad temper, but not as bad as my husband.” It’s as if we think God is grading us on a curve.
We think people can’t see through our denials, but the energy we expend to deny our guilt often forms an impression as obvious as the angel pattern left by children playing in snow.
“But wait,” you ask, “doesn’t faith offer grace?”
Well, it does, but grace doesn’t come without admitting responsibility.
We should be careful that we don’t take false comfort in the statement Jesus made when he stopped the execution of a woman caught in adultery. “He who is without sin may cast the first stone.”
That was not his last word.
His final word was saved for the adulteress when he added the dismissive command, “Go and sin no more!”
If the woman had denied her guilt and returned to her lifestyle, you’d be reading a very different ending. Because at the end of the day, denying your wrongdoings will cost you much more than missing recess. It will cost you your relationship with a higher power.
By the way, one of Becky’s students turned in a long list of horrid wrongdoing. Fortunately, at the top of the list he’d written the words “NOT REAL.”
My wife tells me he’s planning on being a fiction writer.