The Submissional Life // Matt Tebbe

living in submission, leading from below, loving as mission

Why Jesus was so Smart (and it’s not ‘because he was God’)

There was an experiment done about 20 years ago with two kittens. From the time they were born they were kept in absolute darkness – no light whatsoever – except for 60 minutes a day. During this 60 minutes, the lights were turned on, they could see reality as it really was. One kitten was allowed to walk around, to seek and sniff, to get close to objects, to paw at smaller objects. He was allowed to interact with this new environment – to cautiously enter into the world opened up to it because of the light. The other kitten was kept in a box about two feet off the ground. All it could do was sit and look around. The 60 minutes of light was much more safe for this kitten – it couldn’t cut it’s paw on the sharp objects, it would stumble, or lick things that shouldn’t be licked. But this kitten also didn’t respond in any meaningful way to the light. It sat there, blinking, watching but not entering in to this new world given by the light.

After 2 years of this happening every day, the now adult cats were released to live “normally” in full light. The one cat who had been allowed to interact with the environment in the light adapted fairly quickly to its new world of light all the time…it was ready for this new world because of how it had responded to the light in its former. But the cat who was kept in a box, the cat that “knew” the light, had “watched” the light, but hadn’t responded or interacted with the light, this cat lived the rest of its life as though it were blind. Its eyes worked perfectly fine, but it could not see. Researches discovered that sight is as much about learning and growing as it is about just seeing. The brain needs to learn to see the light. Sight is an interactive discipline – not just biological, not just cognitive, but involves how we relate to what we see.

“Not until halfway through the festival did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach.  The Jews there were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?”Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?”

John 7.14-19

How was it that Jesus was so smart without being taught? Look at his own words: “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God…Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law”

Those who questioned Jesus in John 7 knew all about God but didn’t actually DO what he said. Their eyes worked perfectly fine, but they couldn’t see. When they saw light they sat analyzing, watching, questioning, pondering, theorizing, theologizing. They stayed 2 feet off the ground. Safe, detached, unencumbered by the challenges of DOING so they could devote all their time to THINKING. But sight is an interactive capability. We learn by doing, not merely watching.

Jesus on the other hand knew all about God because he interacted with him. Lived with him daily. The law was written on his heart. He learned obedience through what he suffered, you know – lots of bruises, scrapes, bumps, close calls, near misses. Jesus was smart because he acted on what the Father taught him. He didn’t sit 2 feet off the ground. He responded and interacted with the light.

But how about you and me? How do we become wise and learned? Put down the book, step away from (this) blog – by all means finish that seminary degree ASAP – and focus on these 2 things:

1. Today – right this minute – resolve to surrender to love BY responded to God’s voice in your life. Not in generalities, abstractions, safe, detached ways (i.e. “I need to be more patient”) but in concrete, situational, particular lived in realities (i.e. “When I get home tonight I’m apologizing to my wife,” “I’m going to tend to this anxiety and allow it to lead me to prayer rather than surf the internet as a distraction,” “What would you have me do right now Father?” And when he tells you, do it). Blaise Pascal says, “Inattention is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life.” I believe this is what he meant. Cultivate the ability to be present to God’s voice in your life – ruthlessly eliminate distraction and practices of inaction. This will make you smart like Jesus. 

2. Failed obedience is better than successful passivity – If while we were yet sinners Christ died for us – if while we were hell-destined enemies he was heaven-bent on making us his friends – how much more gracious and patient and kind will the Lord be as we seek to step out in trust? We must learn to be fearless about failure and fail forward when we do. Give it a go – step into fear – lick things you haven’t tasted, trip over the step, bump into the wall. Anything worth doing (like following Jesus) is worth doing badly until you get better. And you don’t get better in the shoebox, you only train yourself to not see. This will make you smart like Jesus.

We like explanation before experience – but – what if we don’t figure it all out before we leap? If the cats teach us anything it is we can only see what we experience. Learn to treat doubt, fear, and feeling distant from God as growing and not withering. God is looking to entrust us with more authority, more responsibility, more of his grace and wisdom and must draw us out of our shoeboxes into the dazzling, beautiful, scary world around us. Take a step- not any, but the next – and you’ll find you could see more light than you did before. This active response to the light will make you smart like Jesus.


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