One of the unique ways that God has crafted me is that He made me a mathematician. Good at sorting through all the information and constructing an argument or proof. Back in the day (wow, I am getting old), all it would take is a walk across campus for the seemingly disconnected pieces to fall together. I’d have a study group just so I could talk through problems, and people would come because someone always wants the answers. They’ll even listen to a pretty geeky guy who thought he was cool to get them.
It’s taken me awhile to see how God may want to use my mathematical background as part of my calling. I’m starting to get a glimmer of that. How those pieces fall together will be for another blog.
But what got me thinking math was a line I heard while listening to a podcast about living the spiritual life. It was said that this spiritual journey we are on has much more to do with subtraction than with addition. New math never made more sense.
Addition is about climbing up. About making ourselves worthy before God. Really being in control of our own spiritual life. Boiled down to its essence – addition is about playing god. So the fruit becomes busyness. Adding things to our spiritual repertoire. Going to groups, serving in ministries, working our way up the ladder to being a leader of some sort.
While it may lead to missing our calling, that does not matter. In the addition paradigm you will not be judged by what your calling was, but by how you perform. Worth is based on output. “How good am I?” becomes the mantra and that leads to a spiritual life without the spirit. Seeking approval, comparing ourselves to others, constantly striving to measure up to someone else’s standards or expectations.
It also means that we can’t bear with those who are not performing. There becomes a spiritual Darwinism. Survival of the spiritually fittest. We fear that such people may hold us back or drag us down, so they end up getting lip service, a pat on the back, and advice amounting to a charge to just live the spiritual life better. So when you have issues, questions, struggles that may arise from beginning a journey inward, we repel them thinking we are doing something wrong. We become whitewashed tombs. I know this well. All to well. That was the spiritual world I was immersed in and helped to propagate.
Subtraction is so counter cultural. Almost illogical. Progress spiritually is made by taking away. We call it letting go, or trust, or surrender. Whatever the terminology, it is marked by the absolute absence of our striving. Surrendering the way to God, rather than making it ourselves. Subtraction is anything but easy. In fact, the first steps required, those of the inward journey are so tough that I’d say most never attempt it.
It is trusting that God loves us even when our circumstances would have us believe otherwise. It is surrendering to the journey no matter how much we may want to avoid what we find. Letting God be responsible for the results as we take on the role of faithfulness. It is a submission to love.
While we talk a good game, subtraction means that we have to believe that we don’t achieve God by doing holy things. God has made himself known to us. At no point do we have to start proving ourselves to him or showing how worthy we are. Nothing makes us merit his favor more than we already do by simply existing, by being the being creating in His image that He loves without bound.
If I want to be pleasing to the Father, then I must simply be still and know that He IS God. Everything else will flow from that truth. Desire for God, for truth, for justice, gratitude, service, calling…everything comes from Him. Subtracting ourselves. That is what conforming looks like in the kingdom. Not adding in new things to look the part, but subtracting to reveal what God planted in us when we were created in His image.
Despite his huge following, popularity, and status as a prophet, John the Baptist knew this to be true. I’ll leave you with his words of the spiritual life of subtraction…
He must become greater; I must become less.
– John 3:30