A Christian Perspective on Mathematics

I recently had the privilege of completing a College Algebra class through Christian Leaders Institute. As I worked my way through the videos, reading assignments and exercises, I was reminded of my first love in school. Throughout my elementary, junior high, and high school years, mathematics was easily my favorite subject.
I am not a role follower, per se, but I do appreciate systems that provide consistent results: they provide a comfortable predictability. I like to know what results my actions, words, or other inputs are going to produce.
As I was growing up, I discovered that people were not predictable. My mother’s response to me were much more dependent upon her mood than my actions, attitudes, or words. I learned often times to avoid her (or shamefully, to lie to her) to avoid a situation that I could not predict.
Likewise, my athletic endeavors were frustrating at best. I was not a coordinated child, and I could never throw a ball the same way twice. I might feel like I was moving the same way each time, but the truth was that I never knew where a ball I threw was going to land.
In school, I struggled with learning grammatically correct English. To, too, or two; there, their, or they’re; and hors d’oeuvres are just some of the examples of English inconsistencies that drove me nuts! In geography, sometimes borders would follow nature delineations. Other times, they would be the arbitrary result of a political negotiation, cultural ideation, or a war time compromise. Spelling included the usual rules of phonics, but there were so many exceptions: “’I’ before ‘E’ except after ‘C’ or in…” The “or” always frustrated me.
Fortunately, mathematics did not seem to have any exceptions. Math was completely predictable. It made sense. It followed a consistent set of rules that yielded consistent results. Math made sense, and as a result, I grew to love math. It was one of the few oases to be found in my tumultuous adolescence.
These rules are helpful. Given an expression such as 10 – 2*3 (ten minus two times three) to solve, consistent rules create order and consistent results. Absent the order of consistency, one could just as easily produce the errant answer of 24 (twenty-four) as the correct answer of 4 (four). The brilliant solution to yield consistency is known as the order of operation.
The order of operation set the consistent standard by which all mathematic expressions should be worked. This order is often remembered as “PEMDAS.” PEMDAS is an abbreviation that reminds mathematicians of the consistent order of operations: Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiplication / Division, Addition / Subtraction. Applying the order of operations to all mathematic expressions allows a universal, orderly manner to achieve consistent results. Performed correctly, the expression 10 – 2*3 will always be done to yield the correct result of 4. Multiplication is done before subtraction, so 2*3 is 6. Subtraction then comes and 10 minus 6 is 4. Every time. Orderly.
God, the Creator and sustainer of life is likewise a God of order. He created a universe with consistent results. Gravity is consistent and reliable. If I jump up, I will land. The sun rises and sets, the moon waxes and wanes, the stars twinkle. Consistent. Reliable. Predictable. Orderly.
1 Corinthians 14:33 tells us that God is not a God of disorder but of peace. While I hesitate to remove this verse from its context, the truth presented does reflect the character of God. God created a vast, complicated, unfathomable universe – but a universe that is predictable and orderly because He is predictable and orderly. God is a God of order. Perhaps that is why mathematics has always been so appealing to me: because I see in the chaos of life a hint of God’s character revealed through the science of mathematics.
As I completed this most recent course of mathematics, I was again reminded of the beauty to be found in math. Algebra certainly adds more coefficients, variables, and rules; however it does so in a consistent order that reminds me of the character of God.