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The parable of a teacher

If you look at teachers closely, you can find God there, just in behind their actions – knowing what they know – humbly making a learning moment all about you, brilliantly serving up the truth, hospitably inviting you into a deeper understanding of the nature of life.

The parable of a teacher

Teachers are made in the image of a God who knows everything.

Like God, teachers want to pass on what they know. They want their students to grow, knowing that knowledge leads to life.

Christian educators understand that God speaks many languages: history, physics, French, mathematics, poetry, music, sport and art. They’re good at listening for God’s voice as he speaks through the heavy brush strokes of a Van Gogh painting, the beauty of an Einstein theory or the incredible biomechanics of a Stephen Curry slam-dunk.

Teachers of faith believe that God made everything and that everything has the potential to reveal something about its Maker. Like God, they delight in those wonderful moments when a student sees, understands and then acts on what they know. When a six year old picks up playground garbage after a lesson on God’s call to care for the planet, a teacher (and God) can do nothing but smile.

The God who made the universe made physics teachers after his own mind. He wants both students and teachers to experience his presence as they read his cosmic book. God wants them to know that he mediated both salvation and creation; that when they learn about how matter was transformed, over a period of 13.8 billion years from three elements (H, He, Li) at the Big Bang to 115 known elements (needed for life today), that there is a connection between the death and resurrection of matter via supernovas and a dying and resurrecting Jesus who made the universe like this! 

God wants teachers to make the connection between his Word and his World; to affirm that he spoke both the Bible and creation. In their capacity to know the subjects they teach, teachers are called by God to be pedagogical parables, icons through which students can experience the presence of an all-knowing God.

When Jesus taught, “the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority” (Matt. 7:28-29). Jesus knew that all that exists was a thought in the mind of his Father before it ever came to be – the mysteries of seeds, shrewd managers and heavenly kingdoms. As the one through whom all things were made, Jesus knew that creation pulsed with revelatory potential (even in its fallen state) and because he knew this he spoke with authority. 

What teacher wouldn’t want the same? 

A deeper understanding
I think it begins with the realization that God created each teacher with a unique pedagogical calling. To some he gave the gift of history – educators who get excited when they read about a God who “caused his wonders to be remembered” (Ps 111:4). History teachers have a long understanding of God’s providence. They know that the sovereign God who spoke Israelite history still speaks history today.

To other teachers God gave the gift of woodworking – a unique ability to translate to the hands what the mind imagines, with a God-like capacity to move from the abstract to the concrete and make a table so that others can feast. 

To other teachers God gave the gift of language arts – a love for prose and poetry and phrases like, “My tongue is the pen of a skillful writer” (Ps 45:1). God made teacher/readers who can’t help but hear God’s words through Aristotle and Alice Munro, who find “tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones and good in everything” (Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, Scene I).

Each of these teachers points to the God who made and knows everything!

A couple of years ago I preached a sermon on the parable of a professor with the help of the University of Calgary’s Dr. Patrick Finn, a self-described agnostic. Dr. Finn found teaching to be a deeply meaningful activity filled with moments of flow and beauty. As he spoke about what he loved most about teaching, it felt like God was in the room: “You see it in the student’s face, a light goes on, that they’ve suddenly had a breakthrough moment . . . it is hard to describe how beautiful that is and what a great honour it is to be a part of that . . . what a beautiful new doorway has just opened for this person. You feel proud of them in an almost familial way.”

If you look at teachers closely, you can find God there, just in behind their actions – knowing what they know – humbly making a learning moment all about you, brilliantly serving up the truth, hospitably inviting you into a deeper understanding of the nature of life.  

About the Author
The parable of a teacher

John van Sloten

John Van Sloten is a CRC pastor, teacher and writer who lives in Calgary. His new book, Every Job a Parable: What Walmart Greeters, Nurses and Astronauts tell us about God came out this summer.

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