There is beauty and symmetry in mathematics. A sum, a quotient, the difference, an equation; if done correctly all will balance out. It is harmonious and balanced; a spot of perfection in an imperfect world.
When I was in high school, I enjoyed certain aspects of math but often failed to grasp its greater purpose. Then I had to teach Algebra and suddenly the purpose of the order of operations and the exactitude of showing your work all made sense to me. I was learning critical thinking skills. I was learning perhaps one of the single greatest skills that I could use later in life-how to take apart a whole and break it into its constituent parts and understand it well enough to place it all back together, but with a deeper understanding of its meaning and appreciation of its worth. In order to do this, I had to start with correct information, with truth and meaning.
I have used this skill in construction, finances, marriage, and child-rearing. I have used this skill to navigate airports, foreign languages, friendships, failure, and success. It is the single greatest skill I was taught in school, but the single greatest use of this skill has been in parsing out the mysteries of my faith.
I was raised in a devout multi-generational Christian family. I inherited a legacy of spiritual fathers and mothers who walked a difficult path before me with faith and certitude in a God who cared and walked alongside them in their daily lives. He walked with my grandmother from the sod house she was born into until her death bed in Kansas City surrounded by loved ones. He walked with my grandfather while he plowed the fields behind a plow horse in the early dawn hours and as he lived as a missionary in Cuba in the ’40s prior to Castro taking power. He walked with my mother’s family as they fled Germany and my grandfather as he lived the hard life of a man who was denied a full education and made his living by the sweat of his brow as a cowboy and a logger in the American Northwest. I have a legacy of generations of people who lived through difficult times and still maintained their faith in a faithful God, albeit I am sure, not without doubts. When my paternal grandfather died in April of this year he had been alive through two global pandemics, two world wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the Cold War, the current war on terror, and countless tragedies and natural disasters. His faith never seemed to waver, though I am sure at times he wrestled with it.
I have had to wrestle with my faith in God. I have had to wrestle with Christ and the concept of salvation, but I have always come back to the Biblical truth of who God is and who I am in Christ. I struggled for a time when I was a teenager doubting the existence of God. This was not done with careful study and reverent review but was part of the emotional impulse roller coaster that comes with a body rapidly changing and a mind not yet mature. Then, later in life, I faced darker times of doubt, uncertainty, and disappointment. This was a disappointment not in who God is, but in what my understanding of Him was. I had expectations and those expectations had not been met and I lacked the maturity to understand that. I had to place these experiences within a framework, a constant and unshakeable framework.
What is the correct framework? How can we deconstruct the equation of our faith to better understand it in times of doubt without discarding it as “useless” due to our lack of understanding? Is it even possible to question the validity and reality of our relationship with our Creator and not throw everything away? I believe it is, but it must always be predicated on one immutable point. Just as all approaches to mathematics are based on laws that govern and provide clarity and truth, all spiritual inquisition must be based on Biblical truth. It is the focal point where all lines of truth and inquiry end on the horizon like an artist giving depth and perspective to their landscapes.
I believe all arguments, whether internal or external, to have any productivity, must begin with a mutual agreement or understanding of a baseline truth. For me, this is my belief that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God. All “equations” of my faith are placed in the order of operations that is this truth. Standing on this promise, I can, with confidence, break my faith into its constituent parts for study and a deeper understanding. It was said best long ago:
…continue to work out your salvation [that is, cultivate it, bring it to full effect, actively pursue spiritual maturity] with awe-inspired fear and trembling [using serious caution and critical self-evaluation to avoid anything that might offend God or discredit the name of Christ].
Philippians 2:12 Amplified