Thursday, January 17, 2013

How Foolish Are the Young?

I remember the first time I ever encountered the book of Job.  I was a freshman in high school and we watched a video about it staring Dr. Loomis himself, Donald Pleasence.  We then went over the story of the man God allows to endure horrible suffering until the point where the poor wretch cries out "Why?"

And then God shows up at the end of the story and answers Job's question with a question:  "Where were you when I created the world?"

And Job was satisfied.  And I was not.  I hated that answer.  I didn't understand it.  It felt like God was telling Job to sit down and shut up for the impertinence and temerity of questioning God.  Of course now I understand why I hated the answer.

I was young and foolish.

I think that all young people are foolish.  It part of the process.  If they were not, then there would be no need of education.  I never understood teaching paradigms that centered learning around the student and not the teacher.  If the teacher had nothing valuable to offer, then what was the point?  Lecturing was good enough for Plato, Aristotle, Jesus, and Thomas Aquinas.

But the inherent foolishness of youth is that it thinks that it is not young.  I don't mean that young people don't realize their age.  I mean that they think that they are wiser than they are.  I remember my friend, Rick O, was reading a student newspaper of sorts.  One of the articles was an angry rant against something.  It began: "I've lived 14 years on this Earth, and that's long enough."  My friend turned to me and said, "Does she not realize that she's disqualified everything that she is about to say?"

Young people don't know what real life is, because they have yet to experience it.  I think of my students who want to leave our school because in their eyes it is boring and pointless.  They cannot wait until they are 18 so they can leave their home and do whatever they want.  That seems to me the fundamental drive of the young: they want control over their own lives.  They don't want anyone to tell them what to do or how to live.  They want to do whatever they want.

Sadly, doing whatever you want has rarely led to happiness.

I think once again of Les Miserables and Fantine's agonizingly sad ballad, "I Dreamed a Dream."  It is a heart wrenching song about the stupid mistakes we make when we are young and the horrible consequences that our adult selves have to live with.  The days of wine and song disintegrate into a living hell.

Fantine's story is not new and sadly I can see it repeated all the time.  The young want to lose themselves in their passions: romance, drugs, friends, sex, sports, games, etc.  As you can see, not all of it is bad, but the young make the most basic of mistakes.  By thinking they are not young, but some kind of self-determining adults, they also think they are wise.  Because only someone wise can make good decisions.  They must have a wisdom greater than their teachers and parents in order to make the right choices for themselves.  And that is why they are foolish.

Only a fool thinks he is wise.

Age will sort some of this out.  When the "tigers come at night" and we get the bill on life's charge card, that's when it hits home.  I remember the great Christian singer Rich Mullins once said, "I miss being in high school.  Because I miss being that smart.  I had the answer to all of life's problems.  And then I had to make my first rent payment.  And then everything stopped making sense."

At the time I thought he was just being funny.  I was only a teenager and I didn't get what he was trying to say.  He was actually quite profound.  And he was the key that helped me understand God's answer to Job.

As I've aged I begin to look back on the person I used to be.  I don't know about you, but I literally cringe at what a fool I was.  I've made more stupid decisions in my life than I care to count and when I recall them, I have a tangible pain in my nerves.

I remember the time I thought it would be funny to smack my father on the back of the head in a public restaurant.

I remember how I hated high school and wanted to skip in entirely.

I remember getting a mullet (and having my Dad drag me to the barber to fix it an hour later).

I remember letting friendships drift until they drift apart.

I remember not being there when the person I loved the most died.

And I can remember why I did all of those things.  I remember so distinctly the motivations and rationales.  I think of Red in The Shawshank Redemption who talks about wanting to talk to his younger self: "I want to talk some sense to him, to tell him the way things are.  But I can't."  Why was I so foolish?  Why couldn't I be wiser?

But here is the biggest surprise: I'm still young!  I still make stupid choices each day that cause pain to myself and others.  I think that I have some kind of wisdom, but how often do I act out of pride, vanity, envy, lust, laziness, etc.?  I can look back on last year, last month, last week and have that same twinge in my nerves at remembering my foolishness.

Because in God's eyes, I am a child who does not have wisdom.

And that is the lesson of God's answer to Job.  God made the Heavens and the Earth.  He made cosmic starfields and the teeny-tiny electron.  And he made the human heart with all of its frightful faults and awesome wonders.  He made it all.  He knows what He's doing.

And because of all of those mistakes I've made over the years have taught me: I do not.  I am not wise.  That was the great wisdom of Socrates.   His philosophy could be reduced to 2 lessons:

Lesson 1:  I am not wise.
Lesson 2: (see Lesson 1)

The wisest children are the ones that know they are children.  The best students are the ones who know they have something to learn.  I never behave more childish than when I forget that Jesus told me to be as a child.

Remembering am a child, His child, I will remember I am not wise.  The constant hammer of daily life over the years has helped with this.

How foolish are the young?

No more foolish than this old child of God.

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