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Volume 14, Issue 6: Virga

Victory Celebration

Matt Whitling

"Stupid math test." Ervin glowered down at the white piece of paper that had just been passed to his desk; it gazed back with an uninterested and impersonal fortitude. The numbers weren't offended by this sort of cheap shot name-calling. They had tussled with kids like this before. Each number stayed right in formation—tight columns and even tighter margins. After gazing around the room for a moment in what seemed like a belligerent trance, Ervin began writing with his characteristically dull and cumbersome pencil. Soon the writing was done, and he moved down and attempted to bully a few equations into hinting at an answer for him. The plan was working beautifully. All answer blanks held their ground even after some rough treatment by a blunt thumbnail. Ervin shifted his body over to the left side of his desk, and his eyes slid sideways under cover of lowered lids. Three addition signs made wild and violent gestures of sheer outrage at this sinister tactic but stopped just before those eyes returned to the paper. The words of surrender came before any of the numerical allies expected it: "Stupid test." Unable to handle such intense competition, the twelfth grader turned his paper over and attempted to make it even flatter by placing his forearms on the test and throwing his head into it.

Ervin was a well-disciplined young man. His devotion and faithfulness to the comforts of lethargy were scrupulously adhered to. His shoes and undergarments conformed to a rigid code—a uniform implacable—and even his canter, greeting, and salute revealed that he was a disciple of an inflexible and severe sect of society. Highly trained. It all came very naturally and with little effort, however, so he took that path, ran on it for a while, and lost.
Many parents see their children trotting down this same path of apathy and indolence (a highly regularized drill these days), and they are unsure of what to do now, or what went wrong back then. Of course, the last place we look is where we should have begun our search. In the Scriptures, fathers are commanded to imitate the way God "raises" His children (Deut. 8:5, Eph. 5:1).
In light of this command, it is important that we understand the nature of the relationship between God the Father and His children. God deals with people through covenants. A covenant is simply a relationship, initiated and overseen by God, in which God blesses for obedience and curses for disobedience. The inception of such a covenant is seen in Genesis chapter 2:
"And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die."
It is important to note that God establishes a relationship with His children in the context of undeserved blessings from the start. Adam was not worthy to be given the garden to tend; he had not proven himself in order to attain to the initial blessings that God had covered him with. Adam was simply created by God and then blessed by God. God placed him in the garden and gave the garden to him to dress and keep and eat. This parallel should dictate how an earthly father deals with his children as well. The foundation for the relationship is undeserved blessing or grace. Clothes, food, shelter, responsibility, work, fellowship, love, etc. . . . these are given before a child has shown that he is worthy of such gifts.
In this context of rich blessing, God dictates stipulations and promises further blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. Fathers are to imitate God in providing clear commands that are positive and negative. Children should not only be told what not to, they also need to be told what to do. "Do not mope and cry when you lose the game. Get up, smile, and keep on playing."
Stipulations follow on the heels of unmerited blessings, and finally God blesses and curses according to the obedience or lack thereof of his children. This is where some parents begin to fidget and clear their throats. The fidgeting is primarily due to our inability to distinguish between a bribe and a blessing, and our hardhearted blindness which refuses to see sanctification manifest in a faith/works union, which shows its love and kindness in a good hard spanking. In other words, we are confused, and we mistake our blessings for curses and our curses for blessings.
Despite his concerted efforts, Ervin's paper was no thinner than when he began the smothering process a few moments before. As I collected the test, it became evident who had won the competition: math test 25, student 0. He had been successful in conquering that imposing blank line in the top right-hand corner of the test, but the numbers remained undaunted . (They've always maintained that that portion of each sheet falls within the realm of the humanities.) Ervin raised his head as I bent down with a whisper to bandage the wound. "Are you sure it's the math test that's stupid?" Ervin's bright smile slid out across his open face expressing almost as much glee as could be heard later that day coming from the trash can sometime after 4:30 pm. High fives were heartily exchanged by all those on the test who were able, while others rollicked about intoxicated by the victory-fume pitching into jubilant chest-butts with zeros and other figures of similar physique.

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