God Needs A Grade In My Class
Imagine my shock and my overwhelming sense of gratitude and honor when I discovered that you, dear God, had enrolled in my class. I know I’ve written and spoken to you before, but this situation requires some new and different communication. I strive towards fairness in all my dealings with students, so, God: you will receive a grade and intimate comments, just like your classmates.
God, I am charged with evaluating your world as an epic creative writing assignment. That probably sounds nuts. Me, your grader? But it’s quite common for teachers’ abilities and intelligence to pale when compared to their students’. I have friends whose kids are super-geniuses by most humans’ standards: they process in five minutes what might take their teachers a week. No, that doesn’t even capture it. Those kids see nuances that are beyond their teachers’ grasp, no matter how much time the teachers might take.
But these children must still answer to their teachers: they’ve been put into a very particular relationship with them. And you, God, have said repeatedly that you want love and admiration from your humans, at least if the Judeo-Christian Bible is any guide to your desires. Love and admiration do not come naturally in this world. I even know people who despise their parents, because they are just too abusive, too absent, too cold, somehow devoid of the love their children crave.
Given your concern for your relationship with your human creations, I thought I’d give you an overall sense for your performance, at least as I see it. Needless to say, I’m just one human, and a quirky one at that. Far from having the last word, I hope my report will spark other humans to give you theirs. This is one conversation that will never end, as long as there’s a God on one side, and humans on the other.
First, I’d like to acknowledge your extreme and wondrous gifts: as a student, and, more broadly, as a complex entity who feels, thinks, works, and exists in the broadest and deepest ways. Sometimes you hide in the background, and I start to wonder if you’re in the class at all. Voices and desires much less gorgeous than yours start to take over, and I begin to suspect that maybe you’ve dropped the course.
When this goes on for some time, I start to feel a thick sense of dread. God, you are missed when you check out of the class: sometimes consciously, sometimes in more subtle ways — an emptiness I feel in my stomach and my bones, without knowing why. Students often forget that their teachers also have anxieties, concerns, and personal issues. Yes, I’ll admit it: we teachers are just as happy as the students when a snow day comes around… and we, too, can feel overwhelmed with work, or nervous about how a discussion is going.
So here’s the thing: often, the discussion feels like you’ve never been around at all, and I am going to ask you to change that as soon as you are able. If you sign up for a class — even if it’s far beneath your stature — you have an obligation to participate in an active way that people can discern. I tend to be a fairly generous grader, but, God, I have failed people for rarely showing up, even if their written work was splendid. I am all about the relationship, the people involved — and, in your case, the God I allowed into the class, despite my sense that it might not meet your needs. Listen, God, you chose this class, this world, these humans. You can’t let us feel that you’re blowing it all off.
Now, you may say that you’re not blowing it off at all: that you’ve been right there, every second the class was in session, quietly but forcefully sharing your fabulous insights and wisdom. You may even pull a fast one and tell me that, if it weren’t for you, the whole class wouldn’t even exist.
And I get that; I really do. Let me tell you, God, I was a wreck when I realized you had enrolled in my class. I was terrified that you would sit there and prove me wrong again and again, making me look like an idiot in front of the other students. Part of me feels immense gratitude that you haven’t lorded yourself over me every step of the way — and have allowed me to shine in some ways, on my own level, according to my own abilities. Maybe that’s part of the weird challenge of being a profoundly gifted student: you need to be classy, to hang back and let other entities show their strengths.
But there’s another challenge profoundly gifted students must meet. Different as they are from others in the class — and, for that matter, their teachers — they need to communicate with everyone else. To be worthwhile members of their classroom communities, they need to do a bit of empathizing with others’ mindsets and levels of thought, and reach out to others in ways these lesser minds can appreciate and understand.
Otherwise, the most gifted students become irrelevant to everyone else, and that is a severe tragedy. They’re locked in their own mental worlds, never touching the souls who surround them. They may say: “Hey, I don’t owe anyone else a thing. I need to think on my own level, to grow according to my needs.” And maybe that’s OK for some students with rare intellects — but the ones who can reach out will almost surely have greater effects on the world at large.
You, God, are fundamentally different from even the most brilliant humans, and I will not allow you to hang back and exist solely for yourself. I know I’m being hard on you. I’m also well aware that this is out of character for me: I tend not to bother my students if they’re completing work on a fairly high level — which you are, of course.
Most likely, you feel indignant right now. I can imagine you thinking: “I don’t exist solely for myself! I mean, I created this whole lousy world to begin with — the one filled with this sour human race — and I let it fester despite all the problems. Compare this whole vast universe to your other students’ tiny writing projects, and you tell me who is most deserving of an ‘A.'”
God, I feel you. How annoying when a teacher expects more from some students than from others. “You are not living up to your potential” may just be the most irritating sentence ever uttered by a teacher to a student. Who is one entity to judge another’s potential?
Thing is, God, you have extolled your own potential. You are supposedly omnipotent, omniscient, fabulously loving, and beyond time. I take my students’ self-descriptions seriously: if you see yourself this way, I will go along and try to commune with your self-concept.
So, my first suggestion to you, God: Show yourself! You’re too quiet at the moment. Some students are super-close with you and know you’re always around, but others are sure you’ve never set foot on the Tufts University campus, let alone in our class. Several tell me they don’t believe you even exist, and they would never say that about any of their other classmates. Let us know you’re around. You’re all-loving? Let us feel that love! All of us, not just the kid who’s president of Tufts Christian Fellowship. You’re too exclusive, God, too cliquish.
Honestly, I never criticize my students’ social habits: I don’t see myself as having that right. But, God, you created us all. How awful to leave some of us out of your party. It’s wrong for some students to exult in your goodness, some to wonder whether you’ve ever existed, and some to feel sure that those who adore you are just imagining you.
I’m not sure why your presence is so obvious to some and so unlikely to others, but, God, I think the problem may be similar to one I often find in your classmates’ work. I always tell students to read their writing over, from the mindset of someone else. “Ask yourself,” I suggest to them, “whether someone who is a stranger to you and your way of thinking will understand what you’re talking about.” Sometimes, their writing makes too many assumptions: just takes for granted that all readers will understand certain jargon, or have had certain experiences. “Reach out and explain your thoughts to people who are very different from you,” I often suggest to them.
Now, God, I know your talents veer radically from my other students’, but you did enroll in my class, and I honestly think that this advice holds for you as well. Your mind far transcends humans’ minds in scope and in vision, but you need to reach more of us. And I know you can do it. Sit back and examine your work in this world, and think about where you might do a little more explaining, a bit of extra reaching out.
From my own vantage point, I feel like you’re so close to making yourself known. Often, I’ll sense this glimmer of you, but when I try to capture or commune with it, I can’t. It’s too brief, too subtle, or too opaque. And I know that’s part of your style, but I like my students’ writing to be clear. I feel like some small movement in this direction could make an enormous difference. I implore you to try.
When I consider your work as a whole, I confess to feeling very overwhelmed. I shouldn’t admit that, as your teacher: I should just jump in and consider what you’ve done. But I tend to be quite open with my students, just like I am with everyone else. So I’ll extend the courtesy to you, God.
Even so, I rarely reject a challenge that seems likely to bring great benefit. By the time my review of your work is published, it will be after Yom Kippur, at the beginning of a glorious new year for your world. At least that’s how your Jewish charges will see it. Your other creations will have their own special takes: ones that you understand much better than I ever could. It’s as good a time as any to share my evaluation. You’ll have just finished your New Year’s consideration of my own lackluster performance in this thorny adventure we call life, so we’ll be engaging in a beautiful dialogue of openness and desire for the best kind of change.
I know very well that you’re not the type who will hang on my words, hoping they’re a sign of a high grade to come. You won’t need me to recommend you for an internship; you won’t be gunning for a job or a place in graduate school. But I fancy you the sort who has supreme inner motivation. You want to excel just because, don’t you, God? You want to be the very best that you can be… and you want your work to soar to the greatest possible heights.
Often, I hesitate to criticize my students’ work on deep, fundamental levels. Teachers’ comments hurt me many times when I was a child, and I never want to affect students that way. Sometimes, though, criticism can be a form of love. God, I recognize you as supremely capable and creative, fabulously giving, immensely kind, and expansive in intelligence and in heart.
With all that in mind, God, I implore you to consider your ultimate piece of work: this world. I mean… first things first… I am in awe. It’s astoundingly complex. Emotions and relationships are shot through with beauty, caring, and love. Sights, sounds, tastes, and smells are rich and vibrant — and each being perceives them with unique resonance. All these one-of-a-kind souls, these distinct ways of thinking, these internal universes: it boggles every single conscious mind you’ve ever created.
I’m guessing you could brilliantly argue with me about the flaws I see. The gross unfairness — with some lounging in luxury and others slaving in backbreaking conditions; some basking in love and others feeling abandoned; some exulting and others, crying. You’d say, I’m guessing, that it’s all for the good, and we humans just don’t understand how and why it all works.
And I’m not closed to that argument. Mystery, up to a certain point, is glorious. But, God, I’m the teacher here, and I can only evaluate your work according to my standards. I am a supremely open person, and I am trying to apply that openness here, with you. Look, it’s only fair that I give you an “A,” out of respect for your prodigious gifts, which you have used in wondrous ways. But you’re beyond grades, aren’t you, God? I mean, even I’m beyond grades: I only give them because I have to, in order to keep my job. And beyond grades, beyond that “A,” my disappointment is profound.
God, so many of your charges are hurting. This is good and right in some ultimate sense? I know you mean well, so I am begging you to consider this basic situation. Pure pain, acute suffering, anguish, terror, alienation… for years, with no let up. And I know you’re beyond time, but we aren’t, God. Is it possible that some of your world has devolved into a game that’s gone too far? Perhaps you see that, outside time, everyone is happy. Maybe you perceive that happiness in terms that, for us, will mean some kind of eventual return to peace and joy. But we’re here now — at least “now” as we feel it, and “now” is very, very real for us. Now, for us, is no joke… and it’s long.
You created our minds. Have you forgotten how they work? With all due respect, God, I suspect that you have. I suggest this with full humility: what I’m saying, at bottom, is that you don’t realize just how simple we are on your earth. Simple, yet capable of agonizing torment.
So, God, as your teacher, I issue you a challenge: Look at your world, and I mean truly look, with full empathy and a willingness to step outside your own extraordinary consciousness. Honor our ways of thinking, God. Sometimes, simplicity is gorgeous. You created us with these minds, these urges, these ways of experiencing elation, hope, misery, and defeat. Love involves reaching out to other beings, and meeting those beings on their own terms, each one according to its needs. The world is too cruel, God, too cold. Yes, you get an “A” but just a plain one, not an A plus.
Don’t feel bad, God: I’ve never given an A plus as a final grade. But I’m sure you can do better: you, out of all my students, can snag that grade of ultimate success. It saddens me that, as your teacher, I have not inspired you to reach that level. Can you inspire yourself? Go, God, go! I’ll be cheering from the sidelines, and from the center, as your teacher, your creation, and a piece of your spirit.
May 18, 2020