Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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What do you want to be when you grow up?

When I was growing up in the 1950’s, the older generation had scraped and scrabbled to survive the depression and they wanted their children to have a better life. The key to that was to get a good education so you could be someone who could make a living without working hard. Maybe that wasn’t what they intended to say, but that was what we heard. That gave rise to the question so often posed to us: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

The question implied that there was no dignity in hard work; we should to be something better than our parents had been. That meant that our parents didn’t have what it would take to guide us into being the people we should be. We would need to turn to professional help.

Some time after high school, I had a visit with a guidance counsellor. He gave me a massive aptitude test to take home. The test comprised at least 200 multiple-choice questions. The questions were on card stock, with holes punched beside each of the four answers. You used a pencil to make a circle on the answer paper below and then use the key to interpret your responses.

I did the test once, and the result showed a strong interest and aptitude for accounting. I mused on that, realizing that this choice had been in the back of my mind as I did the test. I wondered what would happen if I did the test again, thinking of how I might answer the questions if I was interested in becoming an engineer.

I created a handwritten set of answer sheets, photocopiers didn’t exist back then, and went through the test again. Lo-and-behold the answer key told me I had a definite aptitude for engineering and should pursue a career in that field. I sat back and mused on the disparate results, concluding that if it was so easy to play games with the test, it wasn’t worth very much.

Some years later I became intrigued with Mensa. They limit membership to people with IQ’s in the top 2% of the population, with the grandiose notion that people with high IQ’s have what it takes to make the world a better place. I requested a preliminary test. It came in the mail; I completed it and mailed it back. Soon there came an invitation to do a full IQ test. Thus I arrived one morning at the University of Regina and found my way to a classroom where a dozen others were waiting to do the same test.

I believe there was a three-hour time limit and after we did the test, we all went home. A few weeks later a letter  came in the mail telling me I had scored 151, placing me in the top 1% of the population. Enclosed was a membership application and a request to write a brief profile. I filled them out, wrote a cheque for the membership dues.

In due time I received a booklet with the profiles of all Canadian members of Mensa. I discovered that most of these people supposed themselves to be much too intelligent to believe in God. Yet, they were ready to believe in all kinds of occult manifestations, mystical experiences, extraterrestrials and other nebulous and irrational spiritual theories. I lost interest right there. I didn’t have the self-confidence that would allow me to dismiss God.

Still, I took another IQ test a year or two later and came up with a score of 155. So what do those test scores reveal about me? Probably just that I am good at doing that kind of test. I don’t know if there is any practical application beyond that.

So here I am, 60 years past the age of 17, thinking maybe now I’m grown up enough to say I want to be a writer.

But what do I do when I come to the real test?

In my later youth I was given a lengthy aptitude test based on questions with multiple choice answers. I looked at it, decided I would ask myself at each question, “How would I answer this if I had a real interest in mechanics?” And lo and behold, the test results said that I would be best suited to a career as a mechanic. I asked for another chance to take the test and this time I asked myself, “How would I answer this question if I had a real interest in accounting?” and now the test showed that I should really study to become an accountant. I suspect that most people who take such tests manipulate them in some such manner, probably without realizing they are doing so.

There are similar tests to help Christian young people discover their talents and interests in order to determine the purpose and direction of their life. What happens when the test says one thing and the Holy Spirit says something else?

The same goes for tests to determine our temperament. What do I do if the Holy Spirit asks me to do something for which I am completely unsuited by temperament? It might help to remember that the four temperament theory is based on ancient Greek thinking about which bodily fluid has the greatest influence on our nature: blood, phlegm, black bile or yellow bile.

There are even tests to show whether I and the person I am thinking of marrying are compatible with each other. How helpful is it to know the results of that analysis when conflict arises in a marriage? Look around, how many really happy marriages are the result of finding the most compatible partner? Husbands and wives grow to resemble each other over the years, that is a result of commitment and of little sacrifices made day by day. The Holy Spirit is the great enabler to help us make the changes needed for our mutual happiness.

Moses was a prince in Egypt and according to Josephus a great military leader in the Egyptian army. He was sure he had just the right abilities and aptitudes to deliver the Hebrew people from their suffering. It didn’t take long to discover that was not going to work. He spent the next forty years learning how to be a shepherd, then God called him to go back and lead his people out of Egypt. Now Moses knew for a certainty that he was not the man for the job, still God insisted that he go. And so he went, and this time it worked.

Let’s not think that we are smarter than Moses, or that intensive self-examination will reveal God’s plan for our lives. That is God’s territory. We will do much better to chuck all the self-help books and just listen for God’s voice. And when we hear, we must do what He asks, however improbable or impossible it may seem. The purpose after all, is to glorify God and help other people, not to preserve our self-esteem.

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