Grading on a Curve

© Wendy Anne Clark, 2016

When I was in college, I had a professor who graded on a curve.  It went something like this.  I attended class every day, took good notes, and studied, studied, studied.  Then I took the first test and got a “C.” I had a score of 92%, but I received a “C” grade on the exam.

As I looked down the list of grades, I noted that there was one “A,” two “B”s, 2 “D”s, and one “F.”  All the rest were “C”s.  The person who got the “A” scored 98, and the two people who got the “B”s scored 96 and 94.  So even though there were many of us who scored in the 90s and 80s, we all received “C”s.

I’ve been told that this is the strictest interpretation of grading on a curve, and that most teachers who use the curve don’t follow this exact model—that most allow a little more room at the top and the bottom.

I quickly adjusted to the reality of the grading system.  Looking around the room, I determined that in a class of about 60 students there would likely be at least 3 who would score higher than me on a test:  maybe one would know the subject better, maybe one would have more time to study, and perhaps one would be better at taking tests.

By the same logic, there would likely be at least three who would score lower than me:  maybe one would attend class less often, maybe one wouldn’t understand the material, maybe one would stay out late partying the night before.

And so I kept attending class, but never studied for another test, and I kept getting “C”s.  Some of those “Cs” were for scores in the 80s and 90s, and maybe one or two were scores in the 70s, but it didn’t really matter what I scored because they were all “C”s.

As a teacher I hate the curve and what it represents because it makes it impossible to have a class where everyone gets an “A,” and even though I have never had a class where every student earned an “A,” my hope as a teacher is that it could happen, and I would start each semester thinking that every student in my class had the potential to do what is required to receive and “A” in the class. The curve dooms some students before the class has even begun.

Some people like to think that anyone who is “good enough” will get into heaven.  Ask how “good enough” is defined, and the person will always describe a scale by which he or she is sure to pass.  I like to throw in that I sure hope God doesn’t grade on a curve.

You see, if being “good enough” is the standard, and God grades on a curve, then only those at the top will really be good enough.  And those who set the bar really high have “thrown off the curve” for the rest of us, as the expression goes.  Maybe all the spots have already been taken by people like Joan of Arc and Mother Teresa.  Billy Graham probably has a shot at one of those spots.  And if there is a gender equality requirement, his wife Ruth might have taken one of the last available female spots.

Most people will agree, that no, it wouldn’t be “fair” for God to grade on a curve.  Ask the person to really explain the “good enough” system of qualifying for heaven, and things get murky—umm—murkier.  The general consensus of those who espouse the “good enough” view seems to be that a person must be “good enough” to outweigh the times when he or she wasn’t good or was “bad.”

So is that like a 60-40 ratio, or does it need to be 70-30 or maybe even 80-20, or could it possibly even require 90-10?  Is there a score card somewhere that can help me figure out my standing?”

A lot of fumbling around happens at this point in the conversation.  Some say that as long as we keep the Ten Commandments, then we’re good.  (It’s a little embarrassing when they can’t name all ten, however.)  Some say it’s really about “The Golden Rule,” which is something about being nice to other people.  “Do unto others,” they say.

Okay, I’m teasing, at least a little bit, but really, if there is a standard by which we either will get into heaven or be left out, wouldn’t it be important to know what that standard is?

Consider what John writes:

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. ” (1 John 5:13, NIV 1984)

John says that we can “know” that we have eternal life?  But where is the score sheet? The points list? The mathematical equation?  Back up a few verses in I John 5 to verses 11 and 12:

“And this is the testimony:  God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (NIV 1984)

No points, no score, no scale, no curve.  Everyone—absolutely everyone—has the opportunity for an “A” in this class.  But it’s not about “good enough” at all.  In fact by the “good enough” scale we have all been equally disqualified according to the Apostle Paul:

“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”  (Romans 3:11-12 ,NIV 1984)

God has revealed the score card for the “good enough” standard, and we have all failed.  We are out of the running before we even begin.  The standard is perfection, and none of us has the power to reach that standard.   We are all equal in that regard.

Thankfully, we are all equal in the potential we have to be saved because the potential does not lie in us. but in the person of Jesus Christ.

In Acts 16, we encounter the true story of Paul and Silas who were being held in a Macedonian prison when an earthquake opened the doors of the prison and released the shackles of the prisoners. Their jailor feared that he would be executed for the loss of his prisoners and intended to kill himself when Paul called to him to tell him that all of the prisoners were still present and accounted for:

          29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

          31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved — you and your household.”   Acts 16:29-31 (NIV 1984)

Some have argued that Paul means  that if you believe, then your spouse and children will also be saved based on your own confession.  That interpretation does not fit in with the rest of Scripture, however.  I think Paul means that if you believe you will be saved, and if everyone in your household believes, everyone in your household will be saved.  The invitation to believe is extended equally to all—to slave and free, to male and female, to all nationalities.  Consider what Paul writes in Romans 10:

          . . . 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in
salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him;13 for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”   (Romans 10:9-13, NASB)

So then, how good does one need to be to go to heaven?

If you ask the wrong question, you will always get and equally wrong answer.  The standard is not goodness.  The standard is Jesus.  The jailor asked the right question:  What must I do to be saved?

The right answer?

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.

And this invitation is extended to everyone.  There aren’t a limited number of spaces available.  Everyone who wants to come to Jesus can come to Jesus.

I’m so thankful that God doesn’t grade on a curve.