While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could deliver him out of death. And God heard his prayers because of his reverence for God. So even though Jesus was God's Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him. (Hebrews 5:7-9)
My son Josh was talking to a friend of ours this week. He was holding forth about something or the other, and this friend asked, "Josh, how did you get so smart?" Joshua didn't take it as a rhetorical question; he gave it some long, hard thought. You could see the wheels turning: "Hmmmm. How did I get smart?"
Finally he shrugged. "Oh," he answered, "I just live and learn."
"Live and learn." There's a lot of wisdom in that, I think. I think there's value in formal education, of course, but there's no substitute for experience when it comes to learning many of the lessons that we need to know. You learn how to be a good husband, for example, by being married for a while. How do you learn to be a parent? Well, you have a child. You learn most jobs by doing them, don't you? You get good at working on cars by working on cars — preferably with someone who knows what they're doing."Live and learn." Life can be a great teacher — a resource-filled classroom, a well-equipped lab. When it comes to many things, you learn simply by living and keeping your eyes open.
"Live and learn." It is certainly true when the subject under consideration is faith. We tend too much to think of faith as stuff we know — facts to be memorized and believed. Churches do more than anyone to perpetuate that idea. We conceive of ourselves as classrooms where the great lessons of faith are taught and learned and remembered. We tend to think and act as if the majority of the growing and maturity of faith happens within the context of the church — within its walls or at least within its circle of direct influence. We seem to communicate the idea that Christians limp through the week, maybe get a little boost on Wednesday, and then stumble in the door Sunday morning to be energized, encouraged, and especially, enlightened, for the long week ahead.
Now I certainly believe learning takes place at church and within the church. I certainly have been energized, encouraged, and enlightened in my faith by meeting with the church. But, I disagree that faith only grows and matures in the church. Or even that it grows and matures best there. Faith is a matter of living and learning.
That's because faith isn't primarily what you know, but who you know. Faith is putting your trust in God and placing your life in his hands. It's hard to put your trust in a collection of facts. A body of knowledge has no hands in which to place your life. At their best, the teaching and proclamation functions of the church remind believers of just who this God we believe in really is. The church can certainly teach believers that this God can be trusted. We can help Christians take the first steps of faith and equip them to take further steps. But the steps still have to be taken. Trust has to be placed. And the true growing and maturing of faith happens as believers begin to actually place their lives in God's hands in the day-to-day unfolding of life.
We "live and learn."
It was true for Jesus. "So even though Jesus was God's Son," the writer of Hebrews tells us, "he learned obedience from the things he suffered." Sounds wrong, doesn't it — Jesus needing to learn obedience? But he did. Before he could be the sacrifice for our sins, he had to learn how to trust a God he couldn't see. He had to learn how to live his life on God's terms when the world in which he lived couldn't and wouldn't understand. He had to hold onto his belief that God was in control when he was faced with abuse and ridicule and injustice. He had to believe in God's graciousness when he was misunderstood and hated. He had to trust in the power of God's forgiveness when the people who he created called him a criminal, drove nails through his hands, and left him to die. He had to learn to obey when the heavens were dark and the only Scripture that would come to his mind was, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Even then, he had to believe that the alienation and abandonment he felt would end in his vindication and victory as that Psalm promised. (Psalm 22:1-31)
If he had to learn obedience that way, what makes us think we'll learn it all sitting in a church pew? Or reading a computer screen, for that matter? No, we'll learn faith and obedience, if we learn it at all, from the same teachers who taught our Lord — life and experience.
We "live and learn" that God is faithful and that he can be trusted; but, we only learn it through living. You can learn why you should trust him in church, but you'll only learn to really trust him when you live with him and see his faithfulness in the unfolding of your life. Often that means uncertainty. Sometimes it means outright suffering. And no one wants uncertainty or suffering. But, it's exactly in those moments, when our resources are exhausted and any control we might have is gone, that we learn just how boundless are God's resources and just how limitless his control.
So, "live and learn." Whatever life brings you, keep your eyes and ears open. Look at each day of your life, whatever it may bring, as a chance to examine another facet of God's love, know a little more about who he is, and see another example of his faithfulness.
"Live and learn."
Who knows, one of these days someone may ask you, "How'd you get so smart?"
And we know your answer will be ...