I love mathematicians; I really do- I married one. But, I must admit that I don’t always understand the way they think. Math and I got along fine all through our practical and fun-loving counting and arithmetic years. I was very pleased with the way it supported my love of orderliness and accountability. It was all very dependable and predictable until that one dreadful year – 1974. That was the year the school decided that 8th grade was a fine time to disabuse me of the notion that math was all about numbers. ..they introduced me to algebra.
It’s not that I have anything personally against algebra; I certainly see its usefulness with problem-solving. It is just that I was of the firm belief that letters and numbers should not intermingle. It messes with the whole natural order of things. However, in my attempt to be open-minded, I grudgingly went along with this strange concept to try and please the teacher. That was all fine and good until one day, in some sort of delusional state, the teacher began expounding on the “theory of zero.” I still remember thinking, “why does ‘nothing’ need a theory?” Try as I might, that was the beginning of the end of the beautiful relationship I had shared with math lo those 14 years.
Over the decades since then I have matured in my perspective in many areas. While I still can’t get excited about the theory of zero, I have learned that the positive side of zero has many advantages. For instance, in the accounting world, the positive side of zero means you have money! Living in Alaska, the positive side of zero means it’s not REALLY cold. I have also noted that people who have “zero” interest in a topic are difficult to engage in a conversation on that topic. Just as my eyes glaze over and I look for the nearest exit when asked about the theory of zero, others react in like manner when topics of faith arise. Many studies have proven that the majority of unbelievers are not atheists (believe there is no God), but rather agnostics (not willing to commit to an opinion about the existence of God). What is the real difference between atheists and agnostics? Atheists have a passionate opinion about God and agnostics don’t care enough to think about it.
Putting that definition in the context of a number line, we could say that a very faithful believer in God is a +10 and an avid atheist is a -10. That would make the true agnostic a zero. Agnostics’ ambivalence toward God puts them in the unenviable position of being the least likely to come to a saving faith. Numerically, it doesn’t follow that someone with a negative number (an atheist) is easier to convert to a positive number than someone with a zero. After all, the zero doesn’t have as far to go. But, in matters of faith, this basic rule of math does not apply. Atheists’ strong opinion about God makes them open and eager to discuss and debate matters of faith while agnostics choose to avoid it altogether.
Matthew 28:18-20 (the Great Commission) calls on believers to spread the good news of the Gospel to the world. In my number line analogy, this means that the faithful believer’s job is to get others moving to the positive side of zero. How, you may ask, do we do this? By making the positive side appealing to them. We need to show them both the near-term and long-term benefits of living on the positive side of zero. If you are a faithful believer, you can bet that there are people in your life who are living at or below zero. Those people are watching you and waiting to see if they want what you have. What are you showing them today?
As we transit through this Holiday period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we have a golden opportunity to both talk about and demonstrate our faith. As you prepare your heart to celebrate the birth of Christ, someone in your life is watching you to see if your faith is something they would like to share. This next month, I urge you to share the greatest gift ever given and impart the true Spirit of Christmas to others. Do your best to be a +10 and watch God work in your life.