By The Numbers

A first glance at the Bible may lead to the conclusion that Christianity is a numbers spirituality; driven, categorized, arranged, and quoted by numerical guideposts. After all, there are Ten Commandments, Noah’s Ark was 300 cubits long, there were 12 apostles, and all of those chapter and verse numbers!

When asked how many times we should forgive an offense, Christ remarked not seven times, but seventy times seven. This apparent fixation on numbers sits well with our own society's love of statistics, quotas, amounts, and tallies. Yet, if we look beyond the numbers, we will see that there are a number of ways in which God's math is not ours.

• God's math is not about statistics, percentages, and our form of “fair and balanced”.

A priest once told me that one of the best signs of a good marriage is the absence of counting. While our number and quantity-oriented society stresses percentages, statistics, amounts, total production, and quotas, “when a marriage is connected to God”, he explained, “neither side keeps records of who is carrying what percentage of the effort”. He wisely observed that being a good Christian often means suspending our society's tendency to keep tallies and protest when things get “unbalanced”. Sometimes, in a marriage or in any interaction, you may be called upon to carry most or even all of the weight of a particular cross, and refusing on the basis that “I already gave too much” is foreign to the kind of love, giving, and service to which Christ calls us. Was it fair for an innocent Jesus to be tortured and crucified for our sins? Obviously not, yet He carried that cross without making a statistical analysis of how much He had already done for us as compared to what we would do for Him in return!

• God's math is not about addition, subtraction, or division. It is about multiplication.

When it comes to our spiritual arithmetic, we must realize that God's calls upon us to move beyond our mere earthly plane of simple addition, subtraction, and division. We are constantly adding things to our plates, adding things to our possessions, and adding things to our wish lists. Does this piling on move us any closer to God?

In order to further our agenda, we subtract many things from our lives: love, service, kindness, humanity, humility, without even a thought as to what we are becoming. We even subtract people as we forget that people should be loved and objects used instead of people used and objects loved. Worst of all we have even sought to subtract God from the very structures of our society such as our schools. It is only a matter of time before He is gone from our lives, hearts and souls.

All of our adding and subtracting leads division, as we build walls around our minds, our hearts, and our souls. Is it any wonder that observing us, critics of religion claim that it only causes division and disharmony. Yet a careful study of history shows that we cause our own divisions through our selfishness, greed, arrogance, and sin.

God's math is not about these things; it is about multiplication, or magnifying simple sincerity into great results. It is about making great things from humble beginnings. It is about turning simple fishermen into great disciples, turning Gideon's band of 300 men into a victorious army over forces 400 times larger, turning five barley loaves and two fish into a meal for thousands.

There must have been more food in a crowd of thousands than just five loaves and two fish, yet apparently there was only one generous youth willing to share what little he had. All of this did not matter to Christ; He did not do a graphic analysis of the situation. He multiplied that simple, sincere generosity into a meal for a multitude. 2 Corinthians tells us that God's strength is made perfect in our weakness, and the only way this can be done is through multiplication of what little our humanity brings to the table. We must be willing, however, to bring something to the table, and then trust that God will multiply our offering to serve His purpose.

All of this, of course, runs counter to what our society tells us to do. This world tells us to add what we want, subtract what is unpleasant, painful, difficult, controversial, or unpopular, and divide those who do not follow society's script from those who do. God tells us to love, serve, trust, and humbly offer what we have, and let Him do the rest. Multiplication is about giving up control, admitting that God is the One who can magnify our efforts, and trusting Him enough to let Him do the math His way.

• God's math is not about numbers; it is about love, people, and action.

In the final analysis, God's math is not about numbers at all; it is about love, people and action. God does not want us to do 5.3 good deeds a week, love 7.9 people a day, or serve others 78% of the time. He does not want us to walk around with a calculator figuring out the good we have done like some dietary calorie count. He wants us to act from the heart, to serve with love, and to sincerely seek His example. I recently heard a preacher warn us not to expect full-time benefits from part-time Christianity. He observed that we often look upon serving God as some definite, clear-cut act like a weekly class to take or a chore to perform. Yet, despite these selfish, superficial, self-imposed limits on our Christianity, we expect the full-time benefits of salvation and answers to our scheduled prayers. The less we think about numbers, quotas and percentages, the more we live lives of love, service, and humility, the more we will see God's purpose multiplied in our lives.

© Copyright 2003 Catholic Exchange

Gabriel Garnica is a licensed attorney and educator with over 20 years teaching experience at the college, business school, and middle school levels. He has a BA in Psychology from St. John's University in New York and a J.D. from The New York University School of Law. Mr. Garnica writes extensively on spiritual and educational issues and conducts seminars on time management, leadership, and personal development.

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