Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The Math of Ethics

I'm helping my 12-year-old son with his math homework right now. I hated math when I was his age. I still do. But I get along with it pretty well now, considering.

I've also been reading and re-reading the ethics articles from this issue of New Wineskins. Lots of points of view. Lots of fields of interest from which those points originate: Biomedical engineering. Politics. Religion. Social justice. Medicine. Philosophy.

To name a few.

And my mind wanders, because I don't really want to think about the solution to the math question my son is asking me to clarify.

Do you suppose God fundamentally changed the way He communicated His ethic to man between the Old Covenant and the New? Were all the laws and precepts and commands too numerous and still insufficient? Did they not cover every given situation that mankind - with God-given creativity - could invent? Like the addition and subtraction and multiplication and division tables we must know before age 12, did they reveal truths that could be applied to lots of bigger problems? Wasn't the real problem that you could carry sin forward on an infinite asymptotic curve, but still never reach zero sin?

Did the New Ethic require simpler communication; just a few principles ... so that God-given creativity could be turned toward applying them to the next level of problems and questions? Wouldn't each one have to be dealt with individually, one problem at a time? Or could you use a blanket answer for every problem, taken from a test case? If 2+2=4, then 2+361=4? If we're stuck in the mine behind the large lady and we have dynamite, are "dying by suffocation" and "blowing her up" the only alternatives? Is the answer better expressed in decimals or fractions? Are there some problems which have answers that are undefinable? Do they just need clarification, restatement, a few hints from a Father who wants us to turn to Him and ask?

Aren't all of the answers reduced to simplest form when it's true that "sin X us / Christ = whole, positive"?

And "us / sin - Christ = 0"?

"Just a minute, son," I'm saying now; "I'll be right with you.

"I'm done with my questions."


Greg Taylor said...

Thanks, Keith, your post, which reminds me that our God is mathematical in beauty, form, function of the creation, including a spoken-into-existence universe with more galaxies than we have people on earth. That math and God have much to do with each other is something mathematicians such as Pascal have known for many years. Yet even those theologian/mathematicians know, in the words of Pascal, that "the heart knows reason that reason cannot know." This does not give us license to brush off science but instead to dialogue with science in understanding God's vast and incomprehensible universe. The math of the trinity has always perplexed us, and I supposed when we get into this "higher math," we will always be profoundly moved and mystified: God is three; God is one.

Rebecca said...

Keith - I will answer "yes". There are some questions to which we have no anwers. I'll go one step further. I believe there are questions to which we should NOT have answers. It's in those times that we are forced to turn to God for our "answers", our support. For when we have "human" answers, then we fool ourselves into believe that we don't need God. Because, after all, if we've got all the answers, why would we? Some things will only be answered in Heaven - but (one more question) once we're there, will we really care about the answer?

Greg Newton said...

We put too much weight in answers . . . which are only parsed for our limitations anyway. It's the journey and not the ficiton of a destination - like an answer.

On another point- we would do well to stop postulating the nature of God on the basis of the differences of literary genres in the Old and New Testaments. All God's covenants have always been about God's grace asking for man's faith. The difference of the 'new covenant" Jeremiah envisions is in people who actually have that faith versus those who don't.

Rick J said...

Wow, Keith... I think I remember NOT being able to help my kids with math by the time they were 12. I'm jealous!
I also remember when I began to fall in love with the girl who would become my wife... I remember when we married... I remember the births and blossomings (is that a noun?) of our kids... I remember wanting answers to time? and temperature? and location? and cost? as their growing up years scrolled by. But I don't think having answers to those things added all that much to the relationship God continues to grow among us.