What Don’t Unbelievers Get About Math?


First, an admission: I stink at math. Marcy has to do the checkbook and does great with our finances (we have no debt or depreciating loans). But that’s because she gets math. Though I’m mathmatically challenged, I at least know that I am because I understand some mathematical absolutes. And I don’t argue with them.

Having said that, I recently got baited into a discussion/argument with a couple of reader-friends over what they perceive as judgmentalism, intolerance, and forcing my views on readers. This discussion came as a result of them reading a recent blog post which got more hits than any post I’ve ever written.

Their biggest question (gripe) was, “Why are Christians so pushy and dogmatic about God’s standards?”

What many people (especially unbelievers) fail to understand is that for devout, serious, Spirit-born  followers of Jesus, God’s standards are absolute. When God says that something opposes his values and is bad for people because it will harm them, then that’s it! That’s the last word. God gets that last word with serious followers of Christ because he’s God, we’re not. Our opinion is immaterial. God has spoken . . . period!

So, I was thinking and wondering . . . how can I make this crystal clear in a way that even a person who shuts off the moment you challenge their “opinion” can recognize, that sometimes our opinion–no matter how much we’re entitled to it and in love with it–is simply WRONG?

What’s even more amazing is the line of reasoning that an unbeliever follows when you challenge his/her “opinion” with God’s absolute. If people are shown his Word, they say either that men wrote the Bible (as though that should disqualify it) or they say that they don’t believe in God.

MEN WROTE THE BIBLE?

Of course men wrote the Bible. Biblical scholars and educated beleivers alike would never dispute that. What they would dispute is the implication that because men wrote it, they made it up. This is an absurd line of reasoning for many reasons but scholars more astute than me have established divine biblical inspiration far better than I could. And any intellectually honest person can read their work if they are genuinely interested in how the Bible came from the Holy Spirit through its human agents as God gave them utterance. But back to my point.

Then it came to me.  I know . . . Teachers and students alike will get this . . .

MATH CLASS

You’re a math teacher and are conducting a class on Addition.

You tell the students 2+2=4.  But two or three of your students don’t agree. They say that 2+2=7. You tell them gently that they’re mistaken.

They take offense and tell you that your answer is your opinion. But in their opinion, 7 is the answer. Because you’re well versed in math, you explain to them that math has absolutes. And you gently assure them that 2+2 will always equal 4 whether they agree on it or not.

They still insist that though you may know more math than they do, they’re not going to allow you to shove your intolerant opinions about addition down their throats. They now take a different tact. No longer do they remain with the 2+2 point.

“Well, that math book was man-made. It is a book written by men.”

“Yes, that’s true,” you say, “but the principles in it are established absolutes just like the law of gravity.” What they’re describing faithfully are the foundations and principles of Math.

Now they’re really going to push you into the corner. “Well, we don’t believe that Math exists. We’re amatheists! We don’t believe in your Math or its principles or your judgmental, intollerant views. We believe in love. And love would never tell us that 2+2 has to be 4 and can’t be 7.” What do you do now?

DEPARTING FROM REALITY

There’s really no arguing. You have to give them an “F” and let them live their lives believing that 2+2=7. Now a bunch of them gang up on you for being unjust to those who received “F”. They harange you and call you a mathematical bigot. You’re intolerant. You’re a 7-phobic. What makes your opinion superior to theirs?

Of course this analogy falls apart at the end, because what they believe about math, only affects their grade in school, not their immortal souls. But what would happen if their eternal destiny was settled by the stubborn insistence upon their error? What would you do? How would you respond if you knew that they would be eternally lost if they held to their mistaken opinions? Would you write them off and say “Hey, they’ve made their choices. Let em face the consequences.

BRING THEM TO THEIR SENSES

Most likely, if you were a compassionate, loving teacher, you would try to convince (not force) them. You might cite all kinds of people and authorities to try to bring them to their senses to escape the lie they have embraced as their firm opinion. You would provide them with expert testimony and scholarship. The problem is that they wouldn’t care. They have made up their minds based upon their opinions (and of course they got those opinions from others with the same misinformed, unexamined opinions).

THE PROBLEM WITH OPINIONS

G.K. Chesterton once said, “An opinion lacking in knowledge is an ugly thing.” It destroys truth. It undermines reality. An uniformed opinion is the devil’s delight, especially where souls are involved.

In our culture, opinion reigns when it comes to God and spiritual matters. With regard to morality and spiritual reality, unbelievers don’t want the facts to cloud their right to believe any fantasy that appeals to their imaginations. Yet, we would never base our destiny on a stubbornly held opinion when it came to other matters of living.

DON’T TRUST YOUR OPINION, GET THE FACTS!

What if a bridge under construction was blatantly unsafe? Signs warn motorists to proceed no further. But a driver–insistent upon her own opinion–decides to cross. What would people say when her car plunges into the depths of the river below?

How far should we trust our own opinions?

Another scenario: What about the patient, who’s scheduled for a brain operation and decides that in his opinion what his doctor proposes is not in agreement with his opinion as a patient. The surgeon insists that she needs to operate on the patient’s left side to affect his motor functions on the right side of his body; but, he insists that if the problem is on the right side of his body, then it only makes sense that she should operate on the right side of his brain. Seems resonable right? No matter how much the patient insists upon the validity of his reasons and his “opinion,” this man is dead wrong. His opinion means nothing, though he’s entitled to hold it dogmatically. It won’t change the reality for his surgeon (fortunate for him.) She will not be convinced by her patient’s stubborn insistence upon his own limited views of anatomy and physiology. She will perform the operation as she has been trained in her knowledge of the human body. The patient’s only choice is to proceed with the operation or not.

You get what I’m concerned about? When it comes to universal principles, opinions are meaningless and only get in the way of the greater good–God’s Kingdom and His reality which includes our joy, peace, and eternal destiny.

Now you can insist that Math doesn’t exist and close your eyes, stop up your ears, jump up and down and cry, but Math exists. And math will not bend its principles for you, me or anyone else–regardless of our cherished opinions.

DON’T BLAME THE MAILMAN

In my post I shared God’s view. It’s not my view. It’s GOD’s view. The believer or disciple who delivers God’s Word is just the mailman who delivered the letter. Don’t whack him because you don’t like what’s in the letter.

The problem with the unbeliever is solved by God. He has already told us why they don’t and CAN’T get it. He says:

1 Corinthians 2:14 (ESV)

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

This is where our prayers come in. All that we can do is gently share the truth with them that may be set free and to see that 2+2 really does equal 4. God really does have absolutes that include or exclude us from his marvelous Kingdom:

2 Timothy 2:24–26 (NIV)

24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

It’s really a matter of humility. As long as they remain in pride, they are captive to a spiritual entity that will not let them see the truth. Only when they respond to the truth with humility and let go of their opinions will God “grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth” that will bring them to “their senses.”

What’s frustrating is when you know their time for “getting it” is short. That makes us more insistent because of our love for them. And that makes them more intolerant with us because they think that we’re forcing our values and reality on them or patronizing them. Lord, remove the veil. Grant the the grace you granted us when we were 7’ers ourselves.

QUESTION: Have you run into this stubborn insistence upon a person’s culturally informed opinion?

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