Grace for the Below Average

“One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.”  Bertrand Russell

At first glance I assumed Russell, an avowed atheist, was poking a stick at religious people.  Those who are certain in their faith are stupid and smart guys like him struggle with doubt.  I’ve noticed that intellectuals (those who assume they are smarter than everyone else) as opposed to intellects (those who really ARE smart) do indeed feel certain they are right while the true intellects are too smart to think they have mastered any complex thought.

A study was done in 1999 at Cornell University to test the paradox proposed by Russell.  (Frankly, I think it is really irony and not paradox but I won’t quibble.)  Simply stated, the smart think they are dumber than they are and the below average think they are smarter than they are.  Is this true?  Two professors (Justin Kruger and David Dunning) first polled their fellow professors.  A whopping 94% thought they were above average compared to their fellow college professors!  What we know from this is:  college professors at Cornell are arrogant and I had more than my share of average professors at a different elite private college.  Maybe those professors didn’t make it at Cornell and came to Whitman College, my alma mater.

Next, Dunning and Kruger asked Cornell students who were leaving a class, where they had just taken a test, “How did you do?”  The lowest performing students wildly over estimated their results.  They believed they had outperformed nearly two thirds of their fellow classmates.  In fact, they scored in the bottom 10 percent.  The top students?  They underestimated their results by roughly 20 percent.  This resulted in both groups believing they had done about the same on the test.

Now the interesting stuff.  The reason the low performers were so far off?  They had no idea what it meant to be competent in the subject.  They didn’t know what it took.  The high performers were tripped up because they assumed that all the other students were about the same level as them.

When the two Cornell Professors took a more rigorous approach to the general public, they found the same results in all kinds of areas: tennis, chess, driving, medical proficiency!, and scientists in the lab.  Bad performers remained bad because they believed they were above average and rested on their laurels.  The excellent performers felt certain that others were their equals and were likely gaining on them so they worked harder to stay ahead.  Dunning and Kruger called this the “illusory superiority effect.”  Another name for it is the “Lake Wobegon effect.”  Garrison Keillor would sign off his radio program with “Lake Wobegon, where all of the children are above average.”

In my view, this also applies to faith.  Most who have it, are never confident they have “enough,” struggle with doubt and seek the face of God for reassurance.  Then there are those who believe the good things they have done far outnumber the bad.  They are above average and will make it to heaven on that basis alone.  Also there are those who strangely believe they are superior to God.  He answers to them and they find Him lacking.

The truth is, has been and always will be:  Jesus Christ on the cross, paying for and erasing the sins of those who trust Him.  God does not grade on the curve, there are none above average, we escape the justice of heaven only by grace.  I love grace.  Grace really does make us all above average.  More than that.  Grace makes us perfect in His eyes.   Grace is a drink of cold diet coke for a thirsty man on a scorching hot day. I love it!

Ephesians 2: 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (NASB)

2 thoughts on “Grace for the Below Average

  1. Thank you for the reminder that we’re given a “pass or fail” test in this life. I will try to remember that on days when I feel inadequate in they eyes of God 🙂

  2. We ride on the coat tails of Christ on the cross. He passes, we trust in Him, so we pass. I think it starts with understanding that we are NOT in the top third of our class. I am glad this was of some help to you Kelsey.

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