When I was at Grammar School, more than 50 years ago now, I wasn’t very good at Maths. I did manage to get a GCE ‘O’ Level in Maths, but to be honest I never really enjoyed the subject. I was (and still am) very good at ‘mental arithmetic’ – I could always see the point of being able to instantly make out if the change I was given in a shop was correct or incorrect – but I never really got into algebra and logarithms, and all that kind of stuff.
At the same time, however, I really enjoyed (and was very good at) the game of Chess. My late Father (who used to teach Maths and English in the Army) taught me both mental arithmetic (and ‘spelling’ and ‘grammar’), and how to play Chess, at an early age. At Grammar School I became the ‘school hero’ on not less than three separate occasions. The first time was when I managed to beat the Senior Maths Master at Chess (he ran the School Chess Club) when I was only in the First Year! For the record, the other two occasions were later (when I was in the Fifth Year) when a) I put the somewhat pompous Biology Master in hospital in the School V’s Staff Cricket Match (I was a ‘fast bowler’ in those days and he broke his arm trying to fend off a short ball I bowled to him), and when b) I put the rather hated Sports Master in hospital in the School V’s Staff Football Match (we came together in a fifty-fifty tackle, and I came out with the ball and he came out with a torn cartilage in his knee). Anyway … back to Chess … I captained the School Chess Team when only in my Third Year and played Number One Board in the School Team.
My brilliance at Chess, together with my uselessness at Maths, naturally came to the notice of our Head Master. He sent for me one day and, somewhat forcibly, put the following point to me: ‘Binney (they called all the boys by the surnames in those days, and only the girls by the first names) … why are you so good at Chess and so useless at Maths?’ It was at this point in the conversation that I made my first mistake of the meeting. ‘Oh that’s easy to answer, Sir,’ I replied, ‘I like Chess!’ Cue for apoplexy fit by said Head Master, turning bright red and letting off clouds of steam in the process!
Since leaving Grammar School, however, I have learned to appreciate, and value, Maths. My first job was as a trainee Mechanical Engineer (with Taylor Woodrow Construction) where the use of Maths was essential. I studied for my ONC whilst working there (on Day Release at Twickenham Technical College) and was ‘top’ in Engineering Maths (before eventually leaving Taylor Woodrow to study Theology at Spurgeon’s College in preparation for the Baptist Ministry). Strangely (I have discovered) that these two subject – Maths and Theology – are actually not that far apart!
The Apostle Paul, writing to the Christians in Rome in the 1st Century AD, uses ‘mathematical language’ when he encourages them to see that it is really, really possible for them to forsake their old sinful way of life and live a new kind of powerful, abundant life in the power of God. He exhorts them to ‘Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 6:11). The word ‘count’ (logizomai in Greek, the language of the New Testament) that Paul uses here is a ‘mathematical word’ means ‘to reckon up’, or ‘to calculate’. Literally we could translate it as ‘do the maths’! Write down ‘the numbers’ in their respective columns. In one column list the things that sin once used to hold you down … and in the other column list the things that Jesus Christ has done to set you free from sin and its power. In the first column list the ways in which sin was slowly but surely ‘killing you off’ … and in the other column list the ways in which God has cause you to ‘come alive’ in Christ. Then add the two columns up … subtract one from the other … and see how the ‘good news’ of the Gospel wins hands down!
The Apostle Peter advocates something very similar in his First Letter, where he exhorts and encourages the Christians to whom he is writing to always be able to ‘give a reason for the hope you have’ (1 Peter 1:21) when seeking to share the good news of the Gospel with others. The word translated here as ‘reason’ has the same root meaning (logizomai in Greek) as ‘count’ or ‘reckon’. In effect, Peter is telling us that the good news of the Gospel is perfectly ‘reasonable’, in other words it does not simply involve a ‘step of blind faith’ but it can be ‘reasoned’. It is actually ‘logical’. It all ‘adds up’ if you like. It actually ‘makes sense’ … if we bother to really think about it, think it through … if we ‘do the maths’ so to speak.
One of the great problems we face today … as we seek to understand the mystery of life … is that we repeatedly ‘leave God out of the equation’. This is a huge mistake on our part. We cannot correctly answer the ‘big questions’ – ‘Where did we come from?’ ‘Why are we here?’ ‘Where are we going?’ – if we ‘leave God out of the equation’! And yet so many of us go through the whole of life with the ‘key ingredient’ missing. Theology and Maths, Maths and Theology, are eternally linked. ‘Religion’ and ‘Science’ are not in opposition. It is the same God who is the ‘author’ of true science and true religion. The wise man or woman will always ‘do the maths’. He or she will always make sure that God is included in the equation that gives the meaning to life.
So … here I am, in the Head Master’s Office … with the Head Master having an apoplectic fit as a result of my ‘summing up’ of why (for me at that time) Chess was better than Maths! Cutting a long story short … after a heated lecture from the Head Master as to why I needed to start ‘doing the maths’ … I then made my second mistake?! ‘Binney!’ said the Head Master, ‘When are you going to change your ways?’. ‘Tomorrow, Sir!’ I replied. ‘Tomorrow?’ Tomorrow?’ the Head Master responded (having another major apoplectic fit, and turning a very dangerous colour of bright red in the process). ‘Today, boy! Today! You will start to change today!’ The Head Master was right of course … and I did start to make more of an effort from that day on.
When it comes to getting to grips with the ‘equation of life’ of life, the same is true, however. Instead of ‘putting it off until another day’ we really do need to start to ‘do the maths’ right here, right now. As the Apostle Paul exhorts us (in his Second Letter to the Corinthian Church): ‘Now is the accepted time; behold, today is the day of salvation!’ (2 Corinthians 6:2)! Don’t delay! Take the claims of Jesus Christ, and the good news of the Gospel seriously! Do the maths!