Julie Wangombe perfoms her poem, "A Poetic Reintroduction to Africa", at TED Talent Search.

When ‘Good’ Professors Fail ‘Good’ Students, and How It Relates to Christianity


Imagine its exam day at a university. Anyone who’s ever been a student, as I currently am, knows that in any class, there’s a ‘colourful’ range of students. The serious; the cavalier; the ‘brilliant without much effort” the “must work twice as hard to do half as well as the average person” the “school is really not my thing” people etc.

I want, for purposes of this post, to focus on one of these students. The procrastinator. They aren’t stupid, except in so far as procrastinating is stupid, they’ve just know for 10 weeks that the exam is coming and only picked up their notes two days ago (:-/). But when they looked through their notes and the syllabus, they realized that there was far too much content for them to go through in two days. So, what did they do? In an attempt to do their best in the time they have while retaining their sanity, they decided to try and make some informed guesses about what would come in the exam. They decide to take a gamble. Perhaps there were ten topics to be studied, and they chose four thinking “after all only one topic will come in the exam.”

Unfortunately, what they studied for doesn’t come. Instead they are sitting in class, exam day, staring at a question for which they have absolutely no answer. Panic hits as they begin to envision the big fat F that will be their due at the end of the semester. Panic gives way to the self-assurance that worry won’t change things: “your here now so think: what’s the best you can do?”. Smart. The student decides to make the best of the situation: they decide to write what they know, what they studied, despite the fact that the information they have is not the information that’s needed. They take a gamble. Maybe the professor seeing that they at least understand something in the course will be kinder to them even though they will not answer the questions asked but the questions they had hoped would be asked. They write their paper, hand it in and hope for the best.

Have you ever seen this happen?

What do you think a professor should do when faced with such a case? Reading the students exam paper, the professor may adjudge that this student is capable, literate, amarter than average and has a way of reasoning distinctly higher than the rest of the class. But, holding that paper to the exam’s marking scheme, the professor cannot reconcile the answer the student has given with the answer that is required. While the professor may want to be lenient and show mercy it would be, ethically speaking, unfair. What’s the point of a marking scheme if your going to throw it out for one student? Besides, it would be unfair to treat this student different from all other students some of whom have prepared really long, and worked really hard for a good grade. Even giving the student a chance to resit the paper would be, in a way, unfair to the rest of the class. It would seem that a ‘good’ professor, a just professor, has no option but to fail this student albeit begrudgingly. In this situation, however, the F will (or may not) not be an indicator of the student’s ability (or lack thereof) but will rather be a reflection of the student’s unpreparedness. (both of which, by the way, are important (perhaps equally important. After all, a future employer of this student would be as wary of a the fact that he/she is a known and persistent procrastinator (read unreliable) as they are of a person who simply won’t be able to do the job. So either way the F helps weed out ‘undesirables’)

But.what does this have to do with Christianity?

I’ve just finished reading the book “The Reason for God” by Tim Keller in which he tackles some of the questions that sceptics have about the existence of God, the goodness of God and the legitimacy of Christ’s claims. (It’s a helpful read, by the way you should get a copy!)

One of the ‘issues that people have with God’, arises from the issue of evil and suffering especially. You’ve probably heard the question: “why bad things happen to good people”. Stretching this question, one would wonder why Hell (which is perhaps the worst thing +suffering there is) happens, even to the best and brightest of humanity.

How can God send good people to hell? How will he punish even those who give their lives for the sake of ideals: freedom, justice, equality, human rights? Those who are working hard to make the world a better place whether in obscurity or on a recognized platform. Doesn’t he see that their good? Their not perfect, but they’re trying! Why won’t he just let them into heaven.

There’s one main problem with the reasoning which begets this question. The question is “whose definition of good (bad) are we talking about?”

According to Christianity, God has his standards which he is faithful to and will use to judge men.

Most of us, however, seem to want to decide on our own definition of good and expect God in accordance with our assessment. We come to God asking him to “pass” us on the basis of our definition of ‘good‘. We want The Professor to change His scheme to accommodate our blatantly ‘wrong answers’. Imagine the afore mentioned student going back to Professor and forthrightly saying, “listen, i’m sure you pretty much made a mistake in you’re setting of this question. It’s really not what you meant to do but I went ahead and took the liberty to write a response to the question I’m sure you wanted to ask; the question I really felt you should ask and the question I prepared for. I also developed a marking scheme too just to help you in the grading.”. Sound Ridiculous? It is. Just. Like. Us.

Somehow we believe that if we think we are good, then God must (and is obligated to also) think we are good and if God thinks we are good, he would be unjust to throw us into Hell. What kind of God inflicts that torture, unnecessarily on innocent people? We’re half-right. God would be unjust to throw innocent people to Hell. But we’re also very wrong to think we are innocent.

God’s standards of good are so high that what He thinks the best human being is, is wicked. Because God‘s standard of God….is Him. In truth, being good is not about doing good deeds outside of God’s standards, its about being like God: perfectly loving, perfectly humble, perfectly merciful, perfectly holy,.

Indeed: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

God loves justice. He loves mercy. But he also loves people who recognize their need for God. If you pursue the first two and not the latter – you fail. Miserably and on all three counts. Because only the latter will enable you to seek true justice and practice proper mercy. That’s God scheme of things. The true scheme of things.

So though we may think we are good in comparison with other people, we will know we are bad when we truly see ourselves in ‘comparison’ to God who judges (fails us) not only on the basis of action, but also on the basis of inaction and ill-intention. The simple truth is this: ‘there is no-one good, not even one’ and when we truly realize that, it shifts our paradigm and our question invariably changes from why God sends good people to hell to a cry of desperation: “is there any way a good and just God might allow bad people into heaven?” and finding the answer to this question, becomes the matter of life and death it actually is.