Do you remember the last time you felt guilt and shame? Do you remember the last time the 280 pound gorilla of guilt climbed on your back and made your life miserable? Guilt and shame have a terrible way of ruining one’s life.
Many years ago when I was a sophomore at Baylor I experienced a horrible attack of guilt of my own doing. It felt like a gorilla of guilt had climbed on my back, wrapped his arms around my chest, and was going to be a part of my existence for the rest of my life. Of course, this mess was of my own making.
That year I was taking Greek with Dr. Cutter. Dr. Cutter stood out as one of those bigger than life characters at Baylor. His persona stood out as loud, gruff, tough and demanding. He had a number of odd ways. In fact, I have never had another professor just like him.
If you fell asleep in one of his classes, he would throw of stick of chalk as hard as he could at you. Of course like a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs he rarely hit his target, so if you were sitting nearby minding your own business and paying attention, you might be hit by the chalk yourself so we all tried to keep each other awake.
At other times if he taught we were not paying attention or getting his point, he would climb up on top of his desk and shout at us as he loomed ominously above us snarly out his Greek words and tenses. He was always in a good mood when the Bears won on the weekend, but if we lost, you better watch out and you knew for sure the pop test was going to be hard, and his grading even harder.
Let’s just say, that we respected Dr. Cutter, and most of us were just a tad bit afraid of him, and I think that is the way he liked it. His intimidation pulled the best out of us, and probably made us better students, or at least he had our full attention most of the time.
Midterms rolled around and I will never forget that test. I had studied hard for the test, which literally meant I had tried to “cram” the night before. I don’t remember if I pulled an “all-nighter” but I know that I had stayed up too late studying. The test considered of several sentences we need to translate and a long list of vocabulary words. Since my strategy for studying involved last minute stuffing as much as I could possible stuff into my short term memory, I often raced through the test answering as many questions as possible before I forgot the answers. If I did not know the answer I skipped it and moved on in fear that I would forget and answer before I got to the question.
On this particular day things were going better than I expected. I knew much more of the material than I had anticipated, and when I finished my first pass through the test I felt pretty good. At least I knew in my heart that I was going to pass the test and possibly even make an A or B. Now it was time for divine intervention. On my second pass through the test, this is where pray came in. I would pray God would bring to my mind answer to questions I had both studied and forgotten, or answers that would miraculously appear from above. Side note, God never whispered an answer into my ear that I had not already studied.
I chuckle under my breath at those who suggest there is no prayer in schools. As long as there are tests there will be prayer! But for those of you who are still in school, I must confess God never whispered an answer into my ear that I had not already studied!
Like I said earlier I was on my final pass through the test and racking my brain over the last handful of vocabulary words. I was staring off into the distance hoping and praying the answers would appear, but to no avail. At one point, as I was staring off into the distance my glance observed my neighbor’s paper. He happened to be on the same page as I was and I noticed one of his answers to the vocabulary. When I saw the answer I immediately remembered studying that word and trying to memorize it. Instinctively without thinking I wrote down the answer and moved on. At the moment it felt good to get the answer right, but trouble would hit in just a few moments.
Dr. Cutter announced that we had five more minutes. I scanned the test and had an answer in every blank so I went to his test and turned in the test. The moment I stepped out of the class room my friend the gorilla of guilt climbed on my back. In a moment in time I realized I had cheated on the test. I had stolen an answer from my neighbor and I was a cheater.
At Baylor we had an honor code against cheating. In fact, if you were caught cheating you could be expelled from the university. To make matters worse I was a ministerial student. I was going to Baylor on scholarships provided to me because I was going to be a pastor. In addition, my dad was the president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and a pastor of the largest church in Lubbock. By the time I made it back to my dorm room I was sick and scared.
“What if someone caught me cheating?” I thought to myself. “What if Dr. Cutter saw we look on the paper next to me?” I could already read the headlines in the Baylor Lariat, “Son of the President of the Convention kicked out for cheating!” Or “Ministerial student caught red-handed.” I lost my appetite. I felt all alone. I did not know what to do.
I wrestled through the night trying to convince myself that it wasn’t all that bad. Let’s face it, it was only one answer. How much difference could that make? I will make up for it at the final, I will just skip on answer that I know and give the points back in the end. I rationalized it away by reminding myself how hard I had studied and that I actually knew the answer all along. Let’s face it I did the work, so what was the harm. Needless to say, my gorilla of guilt began to get heavier and heavier. Besides the Holy Spirit kept convicting me saying “You need to make this right.”
I knew in my heart what I needed to do, but I could not force myself to do it. I needed to go to Dr. Cutter and confess my sin and take my punishment. This scared me to death. If I confessed it, at best, I would flunk the test and who knows at worse what could happen to me. I could still see those headlines, and my reputation and my father’s reputation ruined by my stupid act. Of course, you know if you were in your right mind you would not sin. Doing the wrong thing is always wrong, and never makes things better in the end.
My struggle with guilt lasted as I remember a day and a half. Finally I could not carry that gorilla round anymore and I determined I would confess my sin. So the next morning I got up early and headed over to Dr. Cutter’s office. On the way I practiced my confession, and prepared myself for the worse. I knew I was doing the right thing, but I was also scared to death.
When I arrived at his office, I took a deep breath, and knocked on his door. No answer. I knocked again, lighter not harder, and still no answer. I stepped back and thought to myself maybe I had just dodged a bullet. Maybe God just wanted to see if I was willing to confess but he was not going to make me go through with it. It was obvious I was willing. Don’t you love how we can rationalize ourselves out of jam.
I turned to walk away thinking that the worse was over, when my old friend the gorilla of guilt grabbed on tighter. I realized if I walked away he would be my partner for life—talk about a marriage made in hell. Just as I was turning to walk away I heard Dr. Cutter’s booming voice in the distance as he was talking to someone down the hallway. When I heard his voice my heart stopped and I knew I had to go through with my confession. When he rounded the corner, he spotted me at the door, and I could tell he was racking his brain trying to remember my name. You see I was one of those quiet students who tried to fly under the radar. Most of my professors did not know my name and that was the way I like it.
He said, “You are in one of my Greek classes, right?” “Yes, sir, “ I sheepishly replied. “I am David Lowrie.” He nodded, and said, “That’s right. How can I help you?” I said, “Dr. Cutter I need to talk to you for a moment.” “Come in” he replied, and he unlocked his door and we stepped into his little office lined with book shelves and his desk as I remember was rather clean and with neatly stacks of folders—probably folders of the midterm exams.
He invited me to sit down, and I was sick to my stomach. I desperately wanted to get up and leave, but I knew I had to do what I had come to do. Dr. Cutter peered out over his glasses and said, “So what do we need to talk about?” I paused for a moment, and then I blurted out. “Dr. Cutter, I am here to confess that I cheated on my midterm exam.” His face darkened as I continued. “I had nearly finished the test when I was trying to remember the vocabulary words I had studied. At this point I looked at my neighbor’s paper and saw the right answer to one of the questions and I copied it on my test. I cheated and I am sorry. I am willing to take whatever punishment you deem is appropriate. If you want to flunk me on the test or turn me into the honor council I will accept my punishment.”
I sat there for what seemed like an eternity. I could tell he was trying to take it all in. I don’t remember exactly his words, but I remember him saying, “Thank you for confessing what you did.” At this point he rummaged through a folder on his desk and pulled out my exam. He glanced over it and then looked up saying, “So you cheated on one of the vocabulary words” “Yes, sir” I replied. He paused, and then looked up, and said, “You did the right thing telling me. I forgive you.” I was shocked. I said, “What do you mean sir?” He replied, “I forgive you. I am not going to turn you in or flunk you.” “You mean you are not going to flunk me?” I replied in shock. “Yes, I am not going to flunk you…in fact I am not going to change your grade—who knows maybe your neighbor had the wrong answer” he said with a smile. He went on to tell me about a time in his academic career when as a student he made a similar mistake. He prayed over me and sent me on my way ALONE—I left the 280 pound gorilla of guilt in his office and I practically floated back to my dorm room. Words cannot express the sense of joy, relief, and grace I felt that day.
In the letter to his friends at Colossi Paul spoke of the forgiveness of our LORD and he chose a word whose room means “pure joy.” You see that is the impact of grace and forgiveness. It brings great abiding joy in its wake—joy for the forgiven one and for the forgiver. I have been on both sides of the grace equation and it is true joy waits at both ends. I wonder why so many of us live in the bitter bistro of resentment, anger, and hatred eating out our hearts and souls with the poison of our own passions. We need to learn from our LORD the amazing scope and reach of forgiveness and grace.