As I mentioned back in February, I pursued a paralegal certificate from Milwaukee Area Technical College in 2014. In January when I started the program, I confess I was a little bit angry at God. After all, I had worked so hard, and pulled countless all-nighters to earn a Bachelors degree, and what did I have to show for it? Nothing, really. I was supposed to be done with school, earning money, living the dream on my own like my siblings and peers. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been so angry because the courses were interesting, and one professor in particular was very karismatic. The coursework was also a piece of cake compared to the assignments I had for my bachelors degree. There was still a lot of boring reading, but the assignments were practical rather than theoretical, so it didn’t take me nearly as long to complete them as the assignments I had at Carroll University. And while the patience was bitter, the fruit was sweet, as I now have a job and an income.
I have heard seasoned Christian speakers say that sometimes God puts us through experiences for a purpose we don’t understand at the time, but which we will thank Him for later. Before 2014, and actually for most of 2014, messages like these seemed cliché and almost annoying. My attitude changed one Thursday evening Family Law class in September 2014. I have thought about this day often since 2014, but felt compelled to write about this experience as a tribute to the professor when I found out just a few days ago from a Facebook friend that this professor had passed away unexpectedly. This professor, who was also a practicing attorney, never came right out and said she was a Christian, maybe partly because it was a public college so she couldn’t espouse her religious views, but mostly because since I could tell she walked the walk by the way she treated all of us with compassion, patience and encouragement when we had difficulty with an assignment, and the way she spoke about her family and her law practice, she didn’t need to talk the talk, and my parents taught me that is how Christians should conduct themselves.
I don’t know why I remember this particular family law lecture so vividly, and as I write this, I am feeling compelled to ask the Facebook friend who informed me of the professor’s passing, and who has openly expressed her Christian faith if she remembers this lecture or if God was speaking specifically to me that day. That day, we were studying a section of the Wisconsin Statutes that lays out how child support requirements are calculated. One statement in the section reads, “The court shall determine a parent’s monthly income available for child support by adding together the parent’s annual gross income or, if applicable, the parent’s annual income modified for business expenses; the parent’s annual income imputed based on earning capacity; and the parent’s annual income imputed from assets, and dividing that total by 12.” After reading this statement, the professor paused and said, “Notice the word shall here. The statute doesn’t say the court may calculate child support this way, or that it could use this method or another method. By using the word shall, the statute is saying the court must use this method to determine child support.”
I had never really given the word shall much thought, and honestly didn’t give the word much thought that day either. I had seen it in the bible, legal documents, and Shakespeare-era literature when I was in school, but I rarely see it in modern literature, so I always just took it for granted as an antiquated word that is the equivalent of the word will today. But since then, whenever I encounter the word shall in a bible study, or in choral pieces, the words of which often come right from the bible, it is as if God, speaking through this professor’s voice in my head is saying to me, “notice the word shall here. The passage doesn’t say He may reign forever, but could change His mind. It says He shall reign forever.” I am sure to the professor, this was just another innocuous statement in a typical classroom lecture, but unbeknownst to her, this statement has caused me to sing pieces like Handel’s Messiah, and approach the bible with a deeper level of conviction and joy.
I looked up both shall and will in the dictionary, and their meanings and usages are very similar. But I love the sharper, more assertive sound of the word shall. I know that the bible was originally written in Greek and Hebrew, but in an apologetics class I take through my church, the teacher has talked extensively on the care and intentionality that has gone into translating the Bible so I believe use of the word shall was intentional and inspired by God. Our legal system is far from perfect, and I read an interesting article recently about how this country’s founders held views that would deem them unelectable, at least among conservative Christian voters today. Our founders also believed strongly in the separation of church and state which we strive to uphold today. Nonetheless, it is interesting to read legal documents as they are often still written with an antiquated, old testament sort of language as if the people responsible for drafting legal documents respect the beautiful, authoritative way in which God speaks and see value in writing laws with this same vibe whether they believe in God or not.
The teacher in my apologetics class will often say that when speaking to people who are not yet believers, we must be careful not to use circular reasoning. In other words, if someone who is not yet a believer asks why we believe what we believe, we need to have more to offer than “because it is in the bible, and the bible is accurate because it says so.” But I think God recognizes that even for lifelong Christians like myself, who became discouraged, disillusioned and angry when I couldn’t find a job, speakers pointing to bible passages just weren’t doing it for me. So I wonder if God directed me to pursue a paralegal certificate not only because it would lead me to a job, but because it would deepen my faith when a professor would point out how even a man-made institution like our legal system reveres, and draws inspiration from God using beautiful, mighty authoritative words like shall.