On Failure and Hope

I feel a little awkward right now.  It’s one of those moments when I feel a need – a burning desire – to talk with someone on a personal level, but at the same time I have no idea what to say if I did engage in a conversation.  It’s a mix of fear, dread, worry, and surprise.

I was grading papers today to try and get everything done before Fall Break began this weekend, and I noticed a remark a student made on their paper.  Ever since I read it, I’ve been feeling quite off.  My thoughts seem a bit disconnected and I can’t really focus on anything other than what this student said.

This student came to Olivet from a Christian background.  Suffice to say that I was not expecting to read what I did on his paper, but perhaps I should have seen it coming.  He mentioned that, throughout the course of this semester, he has been gradually falling away from his Christian faith.  Through discussion in class on Christian theology, having to write papers on various topics such as Biblical interpretations and Sin, he is beginning to follow a path of atheism.  He is not there yet, but he recognizes his movement in that direction.

I read something like that, and I cannot help but wonder what part I had to play in that.  At first, it was easy to say, “well, we all have to grow and struggle.  It’s just that he is landing somewhere else than I did.”  Now, however, I am beginning to feel responsible for this.

Was it something I said? After all, he did mention that during a certain discussion in group he was about to storm out of the room because of what was being talked about and how it was being talked about.  But, was I being offensive?  Was I unknowingly pushing him away from God?  When I engage the group in discussion and ask probing questions am I coming across as disingenuous Christian? One thing that the professor who overseas the Teaching Assistants said was, “It’s not what we say that should scare us.  it’s what they hear that should scare us.”  What has this student been hearing me say?

It’s possible that I have stumbled into a place where many teachers find themselves and this is nothing new to some of you.  For my part, however, I have never been confronted with a situations like this since High School.  Am I pushing one of God’s children away from Him?

One thing that gives me comfort in all this is that there is always hope.  During discussion group tonight, I broke up the students into multiple small groups and had them discuss various areas of what Christians would call sins, such as profanity, lust, divorce, homosexuality, and abortion.  Afterwords, we came together and talked about them.  One of the questions I asked at the end of each group’s presentation was, “is there a hope of redemption/restoration for people who participate in this?”  The point I was trying to help them realize was that, no matter how deep in sin some people may be, there is always hope.  After all, the good news of the Gospel is that sin, death, brokenness, and pain are not the end of the story.  The good news of the Gospel is that there can be forgiveness, new life, restoration, and healing.

In regards to this student who is gradually walking away from the Faith: maybe I will see him in Heaven after all, even if I never see him leave his path towards atheism/agnosticism.

As for my part, does this student’s faith development reveal an inherent flaw in who I am as a minister of the Gospel? Is there something I need to change about how I talk, how I teach, how I treat students that God is trying to show me?  Or is this simply revealing to me the fact that the fate of my students’ souls are not in my keeping?  And if that is the case, then what exactly is my spiritual responsibility to these students – or do I even have one?

Is it even healthy to dwell on something like this?