I have been teaching undergrad classes for the past three years. Teaching college students is vastly different from teaching students pursuing their master’s degree. I had to learn many new things to be effective in teaching freshmen and sophomores. In our discussions after class, one question that comes up often is the choice of jobs and careers since many of the students are still struggling with what exactly they want to be.
These discussions made me think about my profession. I went to a magnet school in Detroit and majored in chemistry and biology. I went to Wheaton College as a pre-med student, which lasted for just one semester because there were too many lab classes. Now that I have begun the 8th decade of my life and I am the most senior professor on the seminary faculty, I’ve started thinking about some of the career choices that I might have made. What would I be if I could start again and choose a different career?
I came up with four options – astronomer, neurosurgeon, composer, and preacher/teacher.
I have always been fascinated with the universe. Scientists like Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking have written so clearly that even non-astronomers can understand the complexity of the cosmos. I laugh at the fact that in the English-speaking world, we have astronauts, while the Russians have cosmonauts. I wonder what the Chinese call people who explore the universe! There is so much to study and think about when it comes to space, but Genesis records it almost as an afterthought, “and he also made the stars.” (Genesis 1:16B).
I was in a meeting with a bunch of engineers, and one said that theologians are in such a hurry to get to the cross that we are not marveling at the creation story in all its glory. It seems that is precisely what God says to Job – “Were you there when I laid the foundations of the universe?” In language familiar to the people of that time, God is describing the glory, beauty, and precision in his creation. If the sun decided to come closer to the earth, we would be burnt up in a short time. If it decided to move further away, we would freeze. God has set the trajectories of the sun, the moon, and the stars, and they continue in their journeys of obedience. God created the seasons and they come in their own time and then leave, only to return in another year. While I am fascinated with the cosmos, my view of eternal life is not a sedentary rest on splendid chairs or walking on the streets of gold; rather, it is being rewarded with rule over all the things that God will give to those that love him.
I would also love to be a neurosurgeon. The brain is so complex and rules over all parts of the human body. The human brain is one of the least used organs in our body. The process of thinking is something that we take for granted, but there is much we still do not know about it. Many years ago, I read Paul Brand and Philip Yancey’s book Fearfully and Wonderfully Made. I remember stopping my reading to marvel at something much smaller than the brain—the eye. I thought that if the eye is so complex, how wonderful the workings of the brain must be! God told King Solomon that he would bless him so much that there never has been or ever will be again a person as wise as he was. Apostle Paul wrote about the vastness of the mind of God throughout human history and just when one thinks he will finally resolve the puzzles of humanity, it says, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him? For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36) Yet our creation in the image and the likeness of God demonstrates that we are thinking entities like God. Paul writes later that “…we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:16)
On other days, I think I would love to be a composer. I have read many biographies of composers and am struck by this creativity of having music in one’s mind and then being able to transfer that into a song or a whole orchestral arrangement. At one time, my local classical radio station had a program entitled The Three B’s – Brahms, Bach, and Beethoven. Hundreds of pieces of music flowed from their pens. George Frideric Handel wrote the much-beloved Messiah, in which he used the Psalm where David tells us the heavens declare the glory of God. Composers would often write “Soli Deo gloria” (to God alone be the glory) at the end of their scores. One of my college professors used to say that even when the composers do not assign their music to God, it is still God’s property because creativity is His gift to humanity.
One of the assignments that I give to my students is interviewing retired ministers. Among the 15-20 questions is one that inquires if they would still choose to be ministers if they could choose again. After I retired from Central Baptist Church in 2020, I took a one-year vacation from preaching. It was good to do it, but it also showed me how much I missed preaching and all the things that come along with it. I agree with Paul that we have been entrusted to proclaim the unsearchable riches of God in Christ Jesus, and that the proclamation of the Word of God is the aroma of life and death – life to those who accept it and death to those who reject it. (2 Corinthians 2)
Many years ago, I ran into a friend of mine who is a medical doctor and I asked if he would be at the funeral of a common friend who had died in the hospital that morning. His reply was that he does not go to funerals because funerals are declarations of defeat for the medical profession. Then he added, “Funerals are your business.” It made me think that it was not funerals that were my business, but the proclamation of life. In contrast with my friend, I do not believe that death ends it all. I believe in Him who said, “I am the resurrection and life, He who believes in Me will never die.” (John 11:25) Thus, I can stand in the funeral home and in the cemetery and proclaim the eternal life given to us by God.
Towards the conclusion of his life, Paul quoted the great prophet of the Old Testament and wrote, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things.” (Romans 10:15, ref. Isaiah 52:7) While many careers sound fascinating, I think that teaching and preaching were the right choice for me. Whatever job God calls you to do, the authors of the Reformation concluded that all vocations are sacred if they are done to the glory and honor of God.