The Bible's Prophetic Calling and Why I Am a 'Clerical Error'

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of The Christian Post or its editors.

We have all had clerical errors, whether in making an order online or buying in a store. Sometimes others make the errors. Sometimes we make them ourselves. In each case, people want to know: In whose favor was this error? Who benefitted? Who lost? And how should the error be fixed?

Who I am today is the result of a huge "clerical error" – where nobody lost, but many gained.

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(By CP Cartoonist Rod Anderson)Paul de Vries is an exclusive CP columnist.

There are great Biblical models of clerical errors that demonstrate the potential divine power of prophetic words that may seem out of place. How fascinating it is to read the historic stories of very humble people who are given high praise and encouragement – even before they accomplish the great deeds for which God is calling them. Only later in the Bible story do they accomplish the work that is then worthy of the praise they had prophetically received already.

For example, consider Gideon. When the Lord's angel first encounters him, he calls Gideon a "mighty warrior," which he certainly was not! At that moment Gideon was futilely trying to thrash wheat indoors, while hiding in a winepress building (Judges 6:11-12). It was as if the angels' record-keeping had a major clerical error. However, by the end of the story we see Gideon truly as a mighty warrior. Similar issues arise in the callings of others, including Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus at his baptism. The Father was "well-pleased" with Jesus even before he had begun his ministry, even before his temptation. Having heard the Father's high praise, perhaps Jesus was strengthened further when immediately he faced the taxing tests of Satan. Then and throughout his ministry, Jesus fully fulfilled the Father's praise. Biblically, there can be a prophetic aspect to a clerical error, where the "error" itself is part of the grace that eventually makes the erroneous statement true.

We are all beneficiaries of at least one "clerical error," the one stated at the end of 2 Corinthians 5: God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Here is a precious, grace-induced, double "clerical error"! God put our sin on Christ, who was sinless, and transformed us sinners to become his righteousness in Christ. From a human perspective, this seems like such a sublime slip-up. What a blessed blooper! Utterly undeserved, but demonstratively indispensable and effective. God's grace works through miracles that might seem like mistakes to us. And this verse played a big role in the "clerical error" that so redefined me when I was 12 years old.

A few months ago, I wrote a ChristianPost.com article about how my 6th grade teacher changed my life. I had been the worst student in my elementary school. Halfway through my 6th grade, a standardized test revealed that my general academic achievement was four years behind, as if I still needed to be in the 2nd grade. Strangely, I had been "socially promoted," and now in 6th grade I was completely lost. Even as a member of the slowest reading group and the weakest math group, I was clueless. Textbooks and teachers' lessons made no sense to me, and my stupidity was such a stigma that the other children never picked me to be on their teams on the playground – during recess or other times. I could not read. I was unable to add. I hated school. I wanted to quit.

How did I get so totally lost? For one thing, until the end of 2nd grade, after three years of school, no one figured out that I could not see the chalkboard. I was just a bad kid who refused to pay attention, so they thought. Since nothing in school made sense, I created my own "program" and irritated the teachers to distraction. In addition to being myopic, I am dyslexic. I could not read either numbers or words straight; my mind made them all look backwards. Even in the slow math and reading groups, the other children laughed at me. Teachers told me to get my act together. But how?

Enter the angel from heaven, Mrs. Smith, my 6th grade teacher. She was a senior citizen soon to retire. After school one day in the middle of the 6th grade, she stated directly that she believed, without a doubt, that I had tremendous hidden ability in mathematics. What was her evidence? I had scored on the 9th grade level in mathematics on the standardized test the month before. On the basis of this surprising measurement, she poured into me persistent encouragement, daily after-school tutoring, and extra homework.

Mrs. Smith sought to release the hidden genius that the test had detected. She convinced me she was right, and I became a passionate devotee for the cause. A few months later at the end of 6th grade, I had made it into the top math group in her class. By the end of 7th grade, I had achieved A's in every course, and I graduated from high school another five years later with awards for the best math student, the top science student, the most skilled orator, and the salutatorian of a class of 300 students. Details of Mrs. Smith's phenomenal method are outlined in the ChristianPost.com article mentioned above.

My rise from school dummy to straight-A student in 17 months was breathtaking and extremely physically exhausting – knocking me into the hospital for two weeks. To fulfill the vision and passion Mrs. Smith had imbued into me, I had spent long hours on homework every day —probably exceeding three times the homework time of my classmates. Then, during the summer between 7th and 8th grades, both in the hospital and out, this 12-year-old reflected seriously on the paradox of his extraordinary transformation. On the one hand, this intensely exciting and genuinely rewarding change was based ultimately upon test results that revealed there was a hidden genius inside of him, according to Mrs. Smith. On the other hand, to prove that test result, he had devoted extreme effort, 24/7, completely draining him physically. He could not walk, although his mind was racing.

The most nagging question: If I am so smart, why do I have to work so hard to earn my A's? How could Mrs. Smith be so right, even though it had physically knocked me out to prove her right? I also questioned: How could Mrs. Smith be so wrong at the same time, leading me to trash my health in order to achieve such sweet successes? I had to find the answer.

When I was well enough to take long walks, I set off for MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: to see the graded test booklet that had so fired up Mrs. Smith. It was locked up in the strictly confidential section of the elementary school principal's office, under the icy, strict statutes of Hazel Van Zanten, who never liked me anyway, and the explicit standards of the testing company and the Board of Education. Someway, by God's grace, I believed I could find the answer to the paradox if I could see that graded standardized test. Ms. Van Zanten was there in the office and in her usual mood.

"No way!" My even taking a look at my graded test was against her rules. It was also contrary to the contract with the testing company, she said. I tried my sweet persistence for several minutes, with not the slightest hint of success. However, deep down this 12-year-old knew he was on a mission, so he made a radical proposal: he would completely empty his pockets, the principal would give the test to the librarian, and she would vigilantly watch as this 12-year-old leafed through his graded test for up to 5-minutes. MISSION MIRACLE: the principal and librarian agreed! Only the Lord could have opened that door.

Now I was on a race against time. I leafed through the booklet to find the mathematics section. It was just as I remembered, except that now, 18 months later, all the problems looked simple. When I took the test, all the problems looked very hard, and I had skipped 90%. So why did I get an advanced score? Look! The test grading was radically flawed! I had received credit for my few right answers, plus the 90% that I had skipped were counted as if they were "right." I quickly calibrated the correct score and examined the summary chart in the back to see that my true score was in the 2nd grade range – not the 9th grade range.

With amazing calm, I handed the flawed graded test back to the vigilant librarian, went back to thank Principal Van Zanten, retrieved my pocket possessions, and headed down the street – without giving even a hint about what I had discovered. Then, safely around the corner, I danced on the sidewalk! WOW! All my amazing 17 months of tremendous school successes had been sparked by a weird "clerical error." Of course, Mrs. Smith had still been a faithful teacher, imbuing her deep devotion and passion for learning into me. That was real and measurable – as were also my well-earned A's. Ironically, only when incorrectly graded did the standard test show my true abilities.

But how to process this discovery of the "clerical error?" Right there on the sidewalk, before starting home, as I was dancing, the Spirit of the Lord brought to mind a wonderful verse I had just memorized in church: God made him who knew no sin to become sin in our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God, in him. (II Corinthians 5:21) At that moment, I saw my 12-year-old life as a simple parable of that divine gift of amazing grace, of that "clerical error," of that eternal Truth.

For another 12 years I never told anyone what I had discovered that day. Each time I had a new report-card, while she was still teaching, I would stop by and show Mrs. Smith, thanking her again for believing in me. I never mentioned the "clerical error" to her, my family, my friends, or my teachers. Some gifts of God can remain deep secrets. However, this special gift of his grace further inflamed my passion for the Lord and deepened my commitment to honor and serve him in all that I do – especially to help "fill the earth with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9).
In what secret ways has the Lord poured his grace into your life? You do not have to tell others, but remember to show your gratitude, especially to the Lord of all grace.

Dr. Paul de Vries is the president of New York Divinity School, and a pastor, speaker and author. Since 2004, he has served on the Board of the National Association of Evangelicals, representing 40 million evangelical Americans.