My very first experience of school was being shouted at. I was a late starter, and joined my class a third of the way through the year. Then, 40 minutes into my very first day, the teacher shouted at me.
How do I know it was 40 minutes? I remember my big sister and her friend accompanying me to the classroom door, and the teacher saying “come in”, and telling me to sit down at a desk. So I went in and sat down and waited, not sure what I was supposed to be doing, until the teacher looked up from her desk and began shouting at me!
“John Young,” she bellowed, “that’s 40 minutes you’ve been sitting there without asking me what you are supposed to be doing!” I remember how the whole class stopped and stared at me, and I can remember thinking, “I don’t think I like school very much!”
As the term progressed I realized that this particular teacher was very good at shouting, and, in fact, she shouted at everybody. She also hated rubbers (erasers), and she had a general ban on pupils using them, especially when they had made a silly mistake with their sums.
This meant that you couldn’t change the silly mistakes you made, and if you tried to use a rubber she would shout at you. Then, when you brought your sums out to the front to show her, she would shout at you some more for the silly mistakes you had made. (I used to try and rub my mistakes out with my thumb, but it only made a big dark smudge on the paper, and then she would shout at me anyway, for making a mess.)
I often say that, if someone says they don’t believe in God, it’s good to ask them to describe the god they don’t believe in. I wonder how many would describe a god who is a bit like my P1 teacher. A god who takes delight in highlighting our mistakes and then shouting at us about them. And so we try and smudge them out, and it just makes more and more of a mess.
Maybe that’s what you think God is like? If so, the good news is that you couldn’t have got Him more wrong. The God made known to us by Jesus is someone you can go to with your mistakes, knowing that he will not only NOT shout at you, but he will take all your mistakes off your hands and rub them out himself.
Happily, our next school teacher didn’t shout at us at all, and she didn’t mind things being rubbed out either! What a joy it was to us all when we moved up a class. And what a joy to discover, in her, a glimpse of what God was really like.