My Math Problem

Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? Wrong. Whatever doesn’t kill you the first time will try again. Especially if your assassin starts with a “Calc” and ends with a “2.”

No, my math class didn’t literally attempt to murder me, but it gave a heck-of-a figurative try.

It was really all my fault, though; I should have never enrolled in the class in the first place. But as a first-semester freshman with AP Calc 1 behind me and a 4.0 high school GPA in my pocket, I didn’t know any better. However, I quickly learned that Calc 2 was not my cup of tea. Or coffee. Or any other caffeinated beverage that would be necessary for a 7:30 a.m. MWF class. But I didn’t learn quickly enough to drop the class during the so-called grace period. Thus, after getting my first, ummm, unfortunate test grade, I realized the truth: I’d been weighed, measured and found wanting… and I did NOT want to be there. But I was stuck. Ahh, shucks.

After completing the bad-grade grieving, I decided to take action. I went to the OSU Math Lab for help, invested in The Idiot’s Guide to Calculus 2, started meeting weekly with a tutor named Steven, and became a regular visitor to my professor’s office. For the next 3+ months, I worked my rear off (and still gained the “freshman 15”… even though the prof’s office was on the 5th floor of the Math-Sciences Building and I took the stairs every time. Go figure.) I spent countless hours working and reworking and re-reworking math problems, poured over multiple textbooks and websites, and prayed that God would somehow, in some way, miraculously make this material make sense. Although I never slept with my book under my pillow, I did contemplate it several times. But try and try and try as I might, my mind just couldn’t “get” Calc 2. Sure, I had minor light-bulb moments, and I experienced a few flashes of clarity; however, overall, my brain remained foggy and in the dark.

Then one day while in my professor’s office yet again after I had asked yet another question about derivatives or integrals or series, Dr. Ku interrupted me. In an outburst of frustration he said this, “You don’t have to understand it! You just have to be able to do it!”

Taken aback, I was silent for a moment. Then, hesitating, I replied, “Wait, so I don’t have to get why it works; I just need to know how to make it work?”

“Yes!” he exclaimed, nodding vehemently, “So stop asking these questions!”

Whoops.

Unsure what to say, I thanked him, packed up my pile of notes, and left. As I awkwardly lumbered down the five flights of stairs with my overly-stuffed backpack, I started to process what he had said. All along, I had been worrying about understanding all of Calc 2. I had wrongly believed that I needed to grasp every single concept in its entirety, which was impossible. All I actually needed to do was understand was how to work the problems and arrive at the correct answers. I had been putting unrealistic expectations on myself. As a college freshman, there was absolutely no way I would be able to fully comprehend 300 years’ worth of Calculus theory in a single semester—or ever. But luckily, as my prof so clearly pointed out, that wasn’t the point of the class. No, the point was to learn the information and be able to correctly apply it to math problems. True to “Steffi form,” I had been waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay overcomplicating things. So now leaving Dr. Ku’s office, I felt a sudden and unexpected sense of freedom. I did understand how to solve the problems, and I did have the skills necessary to find the correct answers. And in order to pass this class, that’s all I really needed. Score!

Since that accidental epiphany, I’ve been gradually learning to apply this truth to other areas of my life. And this week at the Kanakuk Institute, I found yet another opportunity.

For the last three days, Dr. Glenn Kreider from Dallas Theological Seminary taught us about the Trinity. To put it in not-so-academic terms, my mind was blown. In case you don’t know much about the Trinity, let me make a meager attempt to explain. Basically, the doctrine of the Trinity states that there is only one God, but that there are three “Persons” within this: God the Father, God the Son (aka Jesus Christ) and God the Holy Spirit. They are each distinct from one another, and they are all separately God, but there is still only one God. There is no hierarchy within this; they are all equal, and they are all equally God. Or, in honor of the math nature of this blog: 1+1+1=1

I repeat: Mind = Blown.

If you’re familiar at all with Christianity, you should (hopefully) be familiar with this belief. It’s a central and essential part of the Christian faith, but because it’s confusing and (again) mind-blowing, you probably haven’t heard many sermons preached about it. I can’t speak for pastors, but my guess is that we rarely talk about the Trinity because we don’t fully understand it. Not only do we not understand it, but I would contend that we cannot understand it. Because to understand it fully would likely (pardon the graphic nature of this statement) blow our mindsliterally. We are so finite, and our brains are so limited and small that there is no way we can completely comprehend a God who is infinite, unlimited, and unbelievably great. It’s functionally impossible. And that, my friends, is what makes the Christian faith so awesome.

You see, who would want to worship a God that we could control and manipulate? Who would want to worship a God that we could totally understand and comprehend? Why would you worship a God that you could “put in a box” and conform to fit your desires and needs? I wouldn’t want to. Why? Because a God I could control and understand would be no God at all. Because God, by definition (pardon the irony) cannot be defined. I could go on and on and on about how indefinable and incredible and beyond description God is, but for the sake of brevity (and not going on indefinitely), I won’t. Simply believe me when I say that this is the way it must be because He is God and we are not.

Some of you might be frustrated because, like me, you want to understand everything. You want to know the who’s and how’s and why’s. You want everything to be clearly classified and to easily made sense of—or have the possibility of making sense. I understand exactly where you are coming from because, like I said, I am wired the same way. And so now I appeal to you with the modified words of my Calc 2 professor: You don’t have to understand it! You just have to believe it and live it!

Faith isn’t easy. It requires us to believe in Someone we can’t see or touch or fully understand. But what makes faith in our God so amazing is that, unlike the inanimate Calc 2 material, He loves us and desires to make Himself known to us.

So from everything we can “derive” this one thing: God wants to be the most “integral” part of your life; won’t you let Him? “Series-ously.” 😉

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