Can I be gut-level honest? When I was in high school I was a cheater. I cheated in most every class. I would cheat by copying other people’s homework, by looking on other people’s test papers, and by bringing crib-sheets to exams. And apparently I was good at it, because I never got caught. No teacher ever voiced suspicion that I cheated and never did I receive a demerit of any kind for the offense. I graduated high school by the skin of my teeth largely because, when it came to final exams where cheating was monitored very closely, I didn’t know many of the answers. What can I say? I was a cheater.
However, when I gave my life to Christ, everything changed. His Spirit in me was very strong. I found myself having trouble putting a coin I found on a grocer’s floor into my pocket without trying to return it to a clerk. The guilt in me, if I tried to keep it, was enormous.
Within two months of giving my heart to Christ, I sensed God’s call to go into the ministry. I and my family packed up our home and moved away to attend seminary. And there I was, back in school again. Yet, never once during the first semester of ministry school did I ever consider cheating. I studied diligently and actually found I had a knack for academics.
However, something happened with a test at the end of my first semester.
At the final exam in one of my classes, I found myself without an answer to a certain question. It was a multiple choice test. I had answered all the questions on the test except one, which I had skipped and left blank, intending to go back to it when I had finished the other questions.
The answer record sheet was divided into three columns. The question I hadn’t answered was on the upper right hand corner of the sheet at the top of the third column. I was pretty sure it wasn’t an “A” or a “C” and was almost certain it was “B”. But I was stuck. I looked frantically through the walls of my mind for a memory that would give me the correct answer; but not just the walls of my mind.
I am one of those people who, if I don’t have an answer to something I will look for it in my mind which will cause my eyes to look up to the ceiling, around the walls, or down to the ground, or all of them. I’m not really hoping to see the answer written in any of those places. But my eyes will scan those areas anyway, staring through them really, trying to visualize the image I am looking for. As with many, it is how I search my memory banks.
That day, with one question unanswered, in an effort to extract the answer from my mind, my eyes were scanning the ceiling, walls and floor. As they scanned, however, they caught the right hand corner of the test paper that was sitting on the desk to my left. In a nano-second, as my eyes passed the paper, I could see the letter “B” was clearly written in the space for that question. I reasoned…I didn’t look for the answer. I saw it by accident. Then I quickly scribbled it down on the answer sheet, handed my paper in and left.
The classroom was in the basement of the building. I walked up the stairs and headed for the exit door. But I couldn’t leave. I paced back and forth in the foyer. I replayed the incident in my mind over and over as I paced. I told myself that I didn’t purposely look at the paper. I saw it by accident. But it didn’t help. I still couldn’t leave. Other students finishing their tests passed me and walked out the door. But I was frozen.
I told myself that if I went back to the professor and told him what I had done he would certainly tear my paper up, report me for cheating and I would be expelled. I thought…expelled from seminary, could there be anything more humiliating than that? But no matter what self-talk I engaged in, I couldn’t walk out that door. I knew whatever penalty academia may impose on me could never be worse that having to live with myself for the rest of my life with the guilt I was feeling at that moment.
This was a pretty big difference from the way I felt about cheating when I was in high school. I wrestled with myself for twenty minutes.
Finally, I went down the stairs and walked over to the professor’s desk. I explained that I had accidently seen an answer on another student’s paper, and I put it down on my answer sheet. As I spoke, I knew I was forfeiting God’s call on my life. I knew I was ending my ministry before it began. But I told him what I had done just the same.
After my confession he thumbed through the test papers, found mine and pulled it from the pile. He had already graded it. It had 100% written at the top. He asked which question it was. When I showed him, he put a red line through that question, and through the 100%, and wrote 98% beside it. He then looked up at me and said, “Thank you for being honest.”
I asked in surprise, “That’s it?”
He said, “That’s it!”
After thanking him, I turned, walked up the stairs and out the door. I was free.