When the Hairy Hooligans are ambushed aboard their ship, their captors announce a plan to execute Stoick, the head of the viking tribe as well as his heir. It is at this moment in Cressida Cowell’s How to be a Pirate (from her How to Train a Dragon Series) that Hiccup steps forth in heroic loyalty to his father. Moments earlier, the legitimacy of his heritage was being disputed, but in the crisis, the true heir alone shines forth
“The question is,’ continued Alvin, struggling to keep a straight face,, ‘WHO is the Heir to Stoick the Vast? Could they put up their hand please?’
Strangely enough, Snotlout did not put up his hand at this point. Instead, he tried to hide behind Dogsbreath the Duhbrain, staring very hard at his bronze-tipped sandals, as if he hadn’t quite heard the question. Hiccup sighed. He stood right up on the bench so that everyone could see him.
‘I,’ said Hiccup, ‘I am the Heir to Stoick the Vast.’
Stoick smiled a big, proud smile.1
In the crisis, none but Hiccup has the power to answer this question. Though others had offered themselves as Stoick’s successor, only Hiccup could stand forth and truly embody the role (which is ironic because Hiccup is quite scrawny for a viking).
I spend time on Hiccup in order to consider the ways in which a question can be answered. As Christian educators, we train our children to answer all sorts:
- How much is is 7 x 9?
- When was the revolutionary war?
- Why was Christ crucified during the Passover?
Certain questions however must ultimately be answered from deep within. For this reason, it is necessary to train our children, not only in facts, but in the practices of faith. In other words, we teach our children that there is something beyond the ‘poll parrot’ stage of learning that is of vastly greater worth. Christian education, rightly done, helps prepare students to pursue this priceless treasure.
Education begins this process through the practice of of reflection. As students learn that 7 x 9=63 (or 2+2=4), they should also discover that such facts are a reflection of reality. Beginning by rote and memory, which is itself a rudimentary aspect of reflection, students discover that truth reflect the way the world truly is. There is delight in such discovery. Made in the Image of God, we are imitative beings who have joy in being conformed to reality. In this early training, students begin to discover the goodness, beauty, and faithfulness of truth. They begin to discover, albeit unwittingly, that truth is not just reliable, but a way of participating in and enjoying life.
There are deeper questions, more fundamental questions, which each individual is called to ask, and these questions can be harder to answer:
- Am I my brother’s keeper?
- Is there a God?
- Can I trust Him?
- What do these feelings mean?
- Am I loved?
- Is this God’s will?
The fundamentals of a Christian education can serve as a preparation for the most pressing questions of life in three ways. I am tempted to describe these ways as Faith, Hope, and Love, but for the sake of clarity, I will refer to them as Truth, Faith, and Depth.
Only the Truth is Sufficient
The first aspect of education has been mentioned. It is essential that a child be gently and repeatedly brought to experience that the truth is not only the ‘correct answer’ but also the most beautiful and reliable thing. Whether in confessing who painted the kitty-cat or in studying the life of a tree, the truth is life, and leads to unfailing beauty and freedom.
A good education, without really trying, will train a student to treat false claimants to truth just as a healthy eater responds to fast food. Such an individual will neither be satisfied nor ultimately fooled by what does not speak with the Master’s Voice. They will recognize that they have not been nourished.
Faith & the Rule of Faith
Education does not happen in a vacuum. Just as one learns about numbers by counting things, just as one learns about trees by observation and instruction, one learns to trust God’s Voice by studying his Word alongside His People.
The mind and character of God is revealed to us in the Scriptures.The Scriptures teach of Justice and of mercy, of human depravity and of Divine Love and forbearance. The Word of God takes on flesh when it is studied and experienced within a community of believers who are striving to live out the calling of God. An education which does not include this dimension has no right to call itself ‘Christian’. This aspect of education, most of all, prepares a disciple to seek and discover answers to the deep question which will arise throughout the course of one’s life.
How Deep His Love for Us
If a Christian education is ultimately a preparation to answer unto the deep things of God, such an education must train a student in humble dependence upon Him. I have suggested throughout that such dependence is prepared for by fostering an analogous dependence on reality and truth. But there is a point at which this analogy falls short.
A healthy individual has the capability to study and accept the basic truths of biology or mathematics. Such an individual will require the aid of a teacher and/or textbook, but these attainments are within the grasp of most. The truths of God, those supernatural truths perceived by faith, cannot be attained by mere dint of effort. “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1st Cor. 12:3). Yet, this does not mean that we are without aid or hope. We enter here upon a mystery. A true Christian Education implicitly and explicitly witnesses, not only to the goodness of truth, but to its gracious giveness.
I have been discussing the nature of questions, how they can put us in communion with reality and prepare us to seek communion with God. There is a kind of question which helps us discover that grace which has already been given, even if we do not yet know it. A good question can asks us to discover, not only what we know, but what we have known, even before we know it! There are questions which can awaken us to truths only we ourselves can answer. Just as truth has been a faithful guide in the most mundane of matters, the Truth is faithful to guide us in those questions which He himself places upon our hearts.
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:15-16).
When Jesus attests that Peter has answered by the power of God, He in no way contradicts the principles of a natural education which are interwoven and concomitant with the journey of faith. The disciples are asked this question only after having spent time with Christ, having witnessed his teachings and doings. They have been trained in Christ.
God not only gives Peter the divine power to answer this question, but had graciously prepared him by a process of education (discipleship). Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter had been prepared and made capable to affirm that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.
By inculcating a humble dependence upon God’s provision, we can have good hope that when the difficult questions come, our students will be prepared to hearken to His voice. Like Hiccup, they will be ready to stand when called upon, and will experience the good pleasure of their Father.
1 Cowell, Cressida. How to Train Your Dragon: How to Be a Pirate (Kindle Location 152). Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Kindle Edition.