Carsten Hjorth Pedersen
This topic takes the first and last of four words upon which a Christian worldview is built as its starting point: creation, fall, redemption and sustentation. However, it is always dangerous to be one-sided and only look at two words out of four and we must not act as if fall and redemption do not exist. We cannot possibly avoid these two other words simply because redemption is a re-establishment of creation and creation and sustentation are unthinkable without redemption.
In the following seven points, I discuss the meaning of creation and sustentation and I suggest some educational implications because I am convinced that what we mean by creation and sustentation are very significant for our aims, contents and methods in education. My first points focus mainly on aims and content whereas the later points focus more on methods. So what does it mean to education that God is the one who creates and sustains?
1) That God is the one who creates and sustains means that human beings can sense something about God
We cannot but sense God in creation. We see his footprints there. By looking at the world around us, we sense that a higher power must be behind this complex and fascinating creation. Somebody must have started it all and some power must be behind its continued existence and wonderful operation.
In fact anybody can sense several of these things. I am going to give examples of how - as it is our task to help people into this sensation of God as the one who creates and sustains.
2) That God is the one who creates and sustains means that God exists
We sense that there is a God. We and the rest of creation are not alone on stage. Everything can not have come into being by sheer coincidence. Something inside us makes a protest against coincidences. We want sense. Who or what is the cause of creation is hard to tell. But it must be somebody or something outside myself. People who do not go to church still speak about creation. However, if something is a created, somebody must have created it.
Today a lot of people have spiritual experiences. At a time of many disasters it is as if belief gets its own meaning. As Erica Jung puts it: “You do not get many atheists in a crashing plane.” People do not necessarily recognise God, the Trinity who has revealed himself in his son, Jesus Christ, and by his word, the holy Bible.
Whether people talk about God or the divine it cannot just be a detail in life. It must have some importance, some great importance.
This has consequences for both the teacher and the child. (In talking about teachers in what follows I mean anybody having educational responsibility for children – like parents, schoolteachers, Sunday school teachers, nursery teachers etc.)
2a) The religious dimension must be part of educational thinking
As educators we must stop seeing the human being as a sociological or psychological individual only. In a survey of textbooks at teaching colleges which I made a couple of years ago, it was obvious that the religious dimension was given a very low priority. However, as God or the Divine does exist we must think God into our worldview as educators – not only as an interesting detail but as something fundamental.
2b) The religious dimension must be part of practical education
In practical and everyday dealings with children and young people, your relationship to God must also be given a high priority. A lot of people are deeply involved in something religious. You may wonder whether quite a good deal of all the focus on sport, music and health is actually religious. Quite a few would agree that the religious dimension in education, teaching and up-bringing is important today. But not every religiousness is true or sound. Yet more important is it to include a sound religious dimension in practical education.
3) That God is the one who creates and sustains means that everybody is equal
When everybody is created and sustained by God then everybody is equal. Being equal, however, is not the same as being identical as the Creator put a lot of differences into his creation of human beings. Two of the fundamental ones are the difference between man and woman and between child and adult. Man and woman, child and adult are all equal yet they have different and indispensable tasks to fulfil. Apart from the differences given in human nature we also have differences in culture like different people, language, traditions, social structures etc.
Even though people a lot of times – due to our fallen nature – have discriminated against others because of these differences, the Christian idea of equality is still basic. And as failures have been and still are frequent (in Christian places, too) it is very important to stick to this fundamental idea. Equality amidst differences has major consequences for ethics and education.
3a) The importance of equality to ethics
3b) The importance of equality to education
In education equality means that children and adults are equal. Children should not be trained as if they were dogs or horses. Children should be brought up. Basically upbringing is a work among equals. However, children and adults are not alike. They do not have the same experience. Their psychological development is not at the same level. The situation in teaching is asymmetric. Equality also has the fundamental educational consequence that the aim of bringing up is the independence of the child/young person who then should be enjoying the same rights as his/her former educators. Equality means that the way an adult shares his life with the child should aim at independence and full majority. If that is going to turn out successfully, the child must gradually be given more and more responsibility which a sound desire for independence normally brings about.
The equality of everybody also means that differences in children should be seen as something valuable and as a fact. Children are different and should be treated differently but always with the same respect and care. This also applies to so-called weak and strong children. Both should be met with firmness as well as tolerance, yet in different ways and it can take a lot of effort and ingenuity to offer them a life at school matching the individual and at the same time boosting social awareness and responsibility among a group of different children.
Equality also has the educational consequence that it is not only the child who learns from the adult but just as much goes the other way round. Children share a very special dimension of life with parents, grandparents, teachers, nursery teachers and many other adults. You might consider children to be the greatest gift to adults from our Creator.
4) That God is the one who creates and sustains means that we are responsible to God
God has created us and he sustains us. He has given us life as a gift. But it means that we are held responsible to Him.
This, too, we try to forget and evil powers try to hide it. It may be the great misfortune of our generation compared to many former generations that this has been neglected and hidden from children and young people of our time. There is an authority in life. Somebody who is before me and before whom I stand. The first one I have to relate to and to whom I am held responsible. The first one who requires me to respond. Responding has to do with responsibility.
Although God is not present to a lot of people, they still feel responsible to one another. If this mutual responsibility declines, we are left without personality or dignity.
We are responsible. We are under an obligation to administrate God´s creation and our own lives. This has educational consequences for the teacher and the child:
4a) The teacher is responsible to God
This can be a very burdensome fact. But it can also be a very liberating fact. I do not teach to please people. This frees me to be myself – before God. First of all, he is the one who judges me. It does not free me from my responsibility to people, but it puts it into the right perspective. I am actually held responsible to God for my teaching. Everybody is responsible to God whether they are working with timber, software or children. The Creator has given us as teachers in his word the responsibility for the rising generation – Deut. 6, 4-13 ; Ps. 78,3-8; Mt. 28,18-20.
4b) Children are responsible to God
Children do not recognise much of their responsibility to God unless authentic adults encourage this recognition. In this the deeds of adults mean just as much as their words.
Through their lives, deeds and words, adults should demonstrate this responsibility to God in order for children to do the same thing. This responsibility should not weigh on the child but be taken seriously. At the same time we must see the freedom in this. The first spectator in our life is always God. We are motivated to an active life style. This is what God wants of us. He wants his creation to live responsibly and actively in his honour and for the benefit of other people. This does not dull us. It encourages us and encouragement is an important educational ingredient.
5) That God is the one who creates and sustains means that God is everywhere
This too can be sensed by everybody as we see his footprints everywhere in creation. God exists – not just somewhere out there. He is omnipresent - in the wonderful transformation of the butterfly, in the fantastic sonar system of the bat, in the incomprehensible structure of human brain, in the millions of stars and the smallness of the atom.
God is not omnipresent in a pantheistic way – being one with creation. He is omnipresent in a Christian way – being present everywhere and yet being totally apart from it all. God keeps everything going (Mt. 6, 25-33). God gives food and clothing to the birds, the lilies and grass of the fields. And so He gives life to everybody: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous“ (Mt. 5, 45). Or as Paul puts it: “For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17, 28). God is omnipresent – perhaps without people noticing. However, it is possible to notice because his wise and wonderful footprints are to be seen by everybody who opens his eyes. We cannot find God in the plants or the animals. We cannot find God everywhere, even if He is everywhere. We may sense Him but we can only find Him through His Son and in His word. That is where His presence clearly stands out.
5a) Everything bears witness to God
We need not be anything else but matter-of-fact to let our students sense God´s existence. We need not add a special spiritual angle. When we present things as wonderful as they are in Science, it bears witness within. And when – in Literature and History - we attempt to introduce students to our hard struggle to understand ourselves and the world around us, it bears witness to God and his creation. As teachers we have the opportunity to take the student´s hand and lead him/her through God´s wonderful and big workshop.
5b) Children should see themselves as actors in God´s world
Children should not only be shown around. They must be activated in order to make new discoveries in God´s creation and play an active part in God´s work in this world fighting destructive powers. It is an educational task to activate children. God´s continuous creation and struggle against destructive powers does involve human contribution yet without letting go of his sovereignty. When we admire a piece of art or are encouraged by some practical effort or somebody fighting for justice, we reap the benefits of human action in the world of God – for the good, against the evil.
5c) When the world is wonderful, wonder is a basic educational ingredient
The photosynthesis of a beech leaf is a miracle. Such miracles happen all the time in nature. And only a fraction of these are discovered by the most wonderful of all creations – humankind. In their own way both the comprehensible and the incomprehensible of creation are marvellous.
You do wonder at the wonderful! And, unlike animals, wondering is something people are able to do. But as with many other things it has to be taught or encouraged. Children can teach adults to wonder. And adults can teach children to wonder – first of all by showing them creation, and that can be done in a thousand ways at school. Wondering includes our thoughts, feelings, willpower and imagination.
Nature and culture are not only wonderful, but also a battlefield between good and evil – with human beings as active participants. This causes both wondering and worrying!
6)That God is the one who creates and sustains means that goodness is part of creation
God´s creation includes goodness. After each day of creation, it says that God saw that what He had created was good. And he saw that it was not good for man to be alone. But even after the fall which meant that man got to know both good and evil (Gen. 3, 22), God let goodness remain in the world. Now, however, goodness was no longer universal, it has ever since been mingled with evil – in a terrible and mysterious way.
Goodness is shown among people and we experience it through love, care, sympathy, compassion, forgiveness, hope and zest for life. Jesus confirms this: ”If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children… “ (Mt. 7, 11).
Evil, too, exists in this world – as everyone knows. Evil is shown among people and we experience it through hatred, desertion, contempt, hopelessness and depression.
Goodness is part of creation in spite of evil and it does have some educational consequences.
6a) There is something good to appeal to in children
Education does not make sense when dealing with devils, they are incorrigible. Children are not, however. If there were no goodness at all to appeal to in children, education would be meaningless. But there is. Children can be motivated, because they know of love, care and sympathy in different ways. It is quite crucial that parents, schoolteachers, nursery teachers and others fight to support goodness rather than evil. Here too, children learn more from what they see and experience than from a correct wording.
6b) Children should be encouraged to have zest for life
Often the basic zest for life – or lack of it – is founded in childhood. It is therefore vital to strengthen the spirit that children have by virtue of creation. A lot of things around and inside children try to fight it. In this fight it is vital to be met with love. Education must be carried by love. Do not mistake this for lack of firmness or having only positive feelings for the child. Love is first of all shown by acting for the benefit of the child – whether you need to challenge or support. Parental love differs from a teacher´s love and care, but they are of one piece.
6c) Hope and forgiveness
Hope is a basic term in education. Teaching always aims at something either spoken or unspoken and the teacher will hope to achieve this aim to some extent. The fact that God uses education as part of showing his goodness to the world, also motivates the teacher to keep struggling even if things may seem hopeless from time to time. Facing both good and evil in the children helps the teacher not to have unreal hopes.
Hope in a fallen world is closely connected to the possibility of forgiveness. Here comes the extraordinary message of Christianity – that Jesus Christ forgives us our sin in order that we can escape the most terrible fact in the world: God´s wrath. This really is the most important thing of all.
Forgiveness between people is basic, too. In education we experience a great need for forgiving and being forgiven. This is not only a matter of verbal forgiveness, but also a matter of nonverbal forgiveness as shown through charity.
6d) Education is care of children
Education is basically to take care of the child´s body, soul and spirit. This always implies a fight for goodness and against evil within both children and adults.
So – as you see – it means a lot to education that God is the one who creates and sustains.