I don’t know about you, but every time I hear about the College Admissions Scandal, I get hot under the collar. This conspiracy involves dozens of parents who bribed, lied, laundered money and cheated to get their children admitted into the “proper” college. Through fraudulent ACT and SAT scores or through fabrication of sports credentials, the students were shown to be something that they weren’t: excellent scholars or elite athletes.

The sheer number of people involved in carrying out the cheating — the false test-takers, the coaches, the people organizing it all — is sad and wrong, but what bothers me beyond all of that is the parents. What they did goes far beyond legality. It goes beyond motive. It goes beyond “fairness." What they did goes to the heart of the value they place on their children.

The parents involved in this scandal all implied — whether they admit to this or not — that their children are not good enough if they’re not able to get into the elite school of their parents’ choice. That is heartbreaking.

Every single student who was falsely accepted into schools runs the risk of believing — for the rest of his or her life — that they aren’t as good as their parents think they should be. They weren’t good enough to get into a prestigious “Bigcity University” on their own. They weren’t good enough athletes. Not good enough students. All they could achieve was “Smalltown College”. A lesser ideal.

That is where the true scandal lies. Each parent involved in this mess couldn’t accept their child as they are. They needed them to be elite. To be braggable. No court time for the parents is ever going to fix what they have indirectly told their children: that they need to lie in order to be presentable.

There are lessons on many levels to be learned from all of this. The obvious ones about cheating and lying almost go without saying. The deeper ones, about a child’s value as God made them, must be said.

Love your kids as they are. Sure, push them to achieve all that they can, but never love them less because they’re not what you think they should be. Kids are imperfect. We all are. Sometimes their grades aren’t what they could be or the school that accepts them isn’t the fancy one we’d secretly hoped for. It just doesn’t matter.

If they’re screwing around and not working hard enough, well then get after them. But if Smalltown College wants them and Bigcity University doesn’t, go with Smalltown. Often Smalltown can offer better scholarships, learning environments and one-on-one instruction than Bigcity can anyway. Will the diploma be as prestigious? Perhaps not. But they will be fish in a small pond and not fish in an ocean.

The most important thing to learn from this scandal is that we all have value as individuals. God made each and every one of us in his image (Genesis 1). We are of immeasurable value to him and we are equals together with one another. Image of God to image of God. God loves us all the same. Elite athletes; unknown benchwarmers. The geniuses; the average. The skilled; the inept.

Romans 5:8 says that God loved us so much that even in our sin, he sent Jesus to die for us. Sin is what separates us from God. But even entrenched in sinfulness, God loved us unto death. He couldn’t bear to be separated from us, so he made a way for us to reach him.

Ephesians 2:8,9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.” There is nothing we can do — nothing we can achieve by merit or by cheating — that makes us worthy of God’s love and acceptance. It is a gift. The mere fact of our existence makes us worthy. Just as we are. Imperfections and all. Fancy diploma or not.

That is the truth of God’s love for us. His scandalous, outrageous, over-the-top grace.

Thanks be to God.

Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is gcodon@gmail.com.