The following article is the substance of a beginning-of-the-year chapel speech delivered last September by Mr. Don Doezema, principle of Covenant Christian High School.
Some years ago I ran across a picture entitled “The Christ of the Snow.” I have it here with me today. At first glance this picture appears to be nothing more than blotches on a white background. In fact, even after one reads that the artist intended to portray “the image of the bearded face that has become familiarly associated with the name of Jesus”, he is hard pressed to discern any kind of pattern in the picture. Once one sees it, of course, the face is as plain as can be. But before that time, the viewer is inclined to doubt that there’s anything there at all. I must have stared at it for a good ten minutes before the face of all of a sudden popped out at me.
It happens that there’s a little script which accompanied this picture. The point of the writer is that all of life can be said to be like that – like our looking at a picture like this. “There are patterns,” he says. “patterns in the snow of time. But what is seen depends almost entirely upon the eye of the viewer.” That is, the eye of one observer sees in this picture the face of a man; the eye of another sees only black blotches on a white background. Likewise (and this is the point of the writer) what is seen in the things about us depends on the eye of the observer. One can, for example, observe the emergence of a butterfly or a moth, from a chrysalis or a cocoon – and see only one of the stages in the life cycle of the Lepidoptera. Or one can watch that butterfly come forth and be reminded of the wonder of the resurrection – the marvelous transformation of our mortal bodies, whereby they become like to the glorious body of our risen Lord. Or, think, for another example, of an earthquake. Perhaps you have read in the newspapers about the recent earthquake in California. If you did, you would have learned that, at least as far as seismologists are concerned, a quake there was to be expected because of the great and active fault which runs through the area. It seems that the question was never really one of whether there would be an earthquake there, but when and how strong. You may have also read, concerning this earthquake, of the behavior of some zoo animals. Animals of the same species, reporter said, were seen to huddle together just prior to the quake. The Chinese, I understand, have been studying for some time the possibility of predicting earthquakes by observation of the behavior of animals. All sorts of interesting things one can learn by reading newspaper accounts. But never once would you read a United Press International reminder that the quake was a sign of Judgment. For it is that, you know. “Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.” says God through the writer to the Hebrews. And that shaking signifies “the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain” (Hebrews 12:26 & 27)
The point is that the eyes of different people “see” differently. Not, of course, in the physical sense. In looking at the picture 1 have here, the eyes that do not see the face see the same pattern of black and white as do the eyes that do see the face. And the eye of one who sees in the emergence of a butterfly nothing more than an interesting natural phenomenon sees the same thing as does the eye of one who sees in it a parable. The “sight” to which we refer is that of the understanding.
What is it that makes the difference in what is seen? Jesus spoke of that to His disciples in the verses I read from Matthew 13. “Blessed are your eyes,” Jesus told them, “for they see: and your ears, for they hear.” And how is it according to our Lord, that those eyes see? “Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” It isn’t therefore because the disciples, or we, are smarter than other people. It has nothing whatever to do with IQ. It’s because we have been given eyes to see. ears to hear, arid hearts to understand the things of God. It’s a gift, in other words, of God’s grace.
Now, what I’d like to suggest, for your consideration this morning, is that all of this has a great deal to do with our purpose for being here. Let’s look at that for a moment. Note, first of all, that the fact that we have been given eyes to see does not mean that, automatically as it were, we know everything that there is to know about God. For one thing, that kind of exhaustive knowledge of the Most High is forever impossible. But, for another, that which we do know about God comes only through effort on our part. It’s kind of like looking at this picture. 1 guess. I doubt if there’s one person in a thousand who would pick up this little leaflet, take one glance at the picture and say. “Why, that’s the face of a man!” One has to study it for a bit, before it becomes clear to him what is represented in that picture. So is it with our knowledge of God. That knowledge doesn’t simply drop out of the sky. It requires effort. It requires diligent use of the means God has given us to grow in our knowledge of Him.
According to our Confession of Faith, those means are two. One is “his holy and divine Word” – the idea being that we can learn to know God more clearly and fully by a careful study of the Scriptures. The other is “the creation, preservation, and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters leading us to contemplate the invisible things of Gad, namely His power and divinity.” Now, it is our duty, our privilege, as children of God, to use those means, to learn more about Him. That applies, of course, to children, to young people, and to adults. But the fact is that it’s during the years of one’s schooling that he has special opportunity for study and for increase in knowledge. And, as I said, that knowledge does not come easily. It takes effort. Just reading the Bible takes time – something which we are often unwilling to spend. But to study it – as those of you who have elected to take the new Bible course with Miss Lubbers are going to do this year – takes work. So does the studying of history and mathematics and English take work. It takes work, the proper motivation for which is that by it we grow in the knowledge of our God.
Sometimes we imagine that there are other, equally important, reasons for applying ourselves to our school work. If you were today beginning a new year of attendance at a public institution you would probably hear from your instructors some of those other reasons. They would remind you that nowadays many jobs are closed to young people who do not have at least a high school education. And they would perhaps tell you that prospective employers are sometimes interested in a seeing a transcript of a student’s high school records, or at least in obtaining some kind of an evaluation or recommendation from the school. So, the argument goes, if you want to enhance your chances of landing a high-paying position; if you want to make something of a name for yourself; if you want to lay the groundwork for a later enjoyment of the good things of life, then you ought by all means to take your school work most seriously.
Now, even if we were to admit that the quality of one’s work in high school might very well have an effect on his later search for employment, the fact is that, if that consideration constitutes our reason for applying ourselves to our schoolwork, then, we’ve got our noses to the ground, when we should be looking up. And I’m afraid that some of us have been affected (or infected) a bit by that notion of the purpose of education. I’m suspicious of that when a student, in making his course selections for the year, will look at a list which includes Ancient History, English Literature, Speech, Physics, Phycology, Music, Appreciation, Physiology – and complain that there’s nothing there that’s worth taking. The problem is, of course, that he’s inclined to evaluate the worth-whileness of a course strictly in utililiarian terms – that is, how am I going to be able to use this knowledge, or skill, when I get out of high school. Now, it isn’t wrong at all for you to expect to find your course work to be, in some sense, useful. In fact, I trust that your teachers will try today, and throughout the year, to make clear how the subject matter of the various courses is indeed useful. But if you restrict “usefulness” to “How will it help me get a job?” then I suspect that you’ll find Physiology and Ancient History as means by which to learn more about Jehovah, through a study of the works of His hands, and of His government of the universe, then I hope that you’ll not be disappointed.
As I’ve already suggested, to keep that kind of perspective is no little trick. When we reach heaven, things will be different. Then our only desire will be to know God and to love and to praise Him forever. But now we find that we have many other desires. And, often, the least of our desires is to learn more about God. Very often we forget that education is serious business. And the result is a scandalous waste of time and effort. Some students, as you know, come to class in order to hibernate – that is, they make to secret of catching up on their sleep during a “boring” lecture. Others remain indeed awake; but their behavior is such that I can hardly blame the instructor for wishing they would fall asleep. Others remain awake, appear to be dutifully attentive, but in fact hear precious little that the instructor says. Still others do listen, do take notes, do study notes, and do get good marks – but are not, all conscious of the fact that they must be seeing God in their study of Ancient History and Biology. A student, in other words, might appear to be a genuine scholar, but as long as he considers the subject matter of a science class to be a mere mass of data which must be committed to memory, more or less, till after the test, he is missing the whole point of education. He is failing to see God in the works of His hands.
We do well, I think, at the beginning of the year, to start out on the right foot. What foot is that? At the risk of appearing to belabor the obvious. I’d like to draw attention again to that picture. I mentioned that it took me about ten minutes to discover what now seems to me to be so very obvious. It happened that, before I saw the face myself, I showed the picture to my wife. She saw at first no design in it, but after I explained to her what it was supposed to represent, she saw the face immediately. I hate to admit it, but, even after that, it still took me a couple of minutes to find the face. She had to explain to me where the face was. As I reflected later in the message printed on this leaflet, I thought to myself, how very much like the purpose of our education in our school that was. I had to be shown the face in the picture before I could discern the design that was in it all the time. And that’s the way it is also with a study of history, for example. One would be quite an unusual student were he to see “design” in the events of history, simply upon reading the record. To see things in their proper perspective takes a whole lot of study. It happens that Mr. Langerak, Miss Lubbers, and Mr. VanderSchaff, along with Mr. Hanko from Hope and Mr. Kalsbeek from Adams have been meeting two evenings per month for the last three years to study the matter of design in history. And they do that with a view to communicating that perspective to you. You have a right to expect that your teachers will do that too. Not, of course, that a history teacher will be able to explain how every event of history is used by God to further the cause of His Kingdom. There is that kind of detailed design in history, but no man can ever understand it. We can only hope to see what we might call the trends, and be able to show how they relate to God’s gathering of His Church in history. The same things holds true for other courses. One cannot expect a math teacher to be able to show how each separate mathematical concept somehow demonstrates an attribute of our God. But, at the end of the course, one should be able to say, “My conception of the Almighty God has been enriched by my study of geometry under Mr. Huber.”
Since this is what education is all about, we do well to take it seriously – as teachers and as students. As teachers, we must have a deep appreciation for the fact that we have a calling to direct the attention of the young people who study under us, to God. Who reveals Himself through the works of His hands. And, as students, you should constantly bear in mind that you’re not dealing with bare facts but with revelation. It’s that fact alone that makes all your work not only worthwhile, but also vitally important. The more, I think, that we consider ourselves to be pilgrims and strangers who have here no abiding place. The more we will come to understand the importance of learning more fully to know God, and the more we will learn to take our work at this school seriously.
For it is serious business. And our failure to consider it that, as teachers or students, is sin. A casual attitude toward our studies is really a failure to use the eyes with which, by the grace of God, we are able to see spiritual things. Jesus dealt with the same kind of failure in His disciples when He asked them, according to Mark 8:18, “Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears hear ye not?” Our prayer, at the beginning of this school year, is that God will enlighten the eyes of your understanding, that, through your training at this school you will be led to know Him more fully by seeing Him in His Word and works.