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

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.

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

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.

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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 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.

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.

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