Tuesday, April 14, 2009


I often find myself thinking about how I think about things too much. It’s funny... well, not really. It's more exhausting than anything else. I don’t remember ever being real into philosophy in my younger years. Growing up, my strengths were not in abstract concepts and, like most others, I hated those critical thinking essays teachers would always have at the end their tests. Critical thinking? There is nothing pleasant about that phrase whatsoever, especially when dealing with literature or social studies.

I was much better at the math and sciences (and tetherball during recess). Questions in these classes were based on formulas which just made more sense to me. I enjoyed the idea of equations because they were so straightforward. Even if a question fell under the critical thinking heading in one of these subjects, the basic premise still applied: what was on one side had to equal what was on the other side. Basically, as long as you followed all of the appropriate rules and guidelines of a given problem, you would arrive at the correct answer. There’s no room for arguing; there’s only one right answer. Two plus two always equals four and five times fives always equals twenty-five. However, if you were to ask a more philosophical question, like what is beauty, then there’s room for interpretation. What one person considers beautiful may do nothing for another person. There's not a formula that I know of to define beauty like there are formulas in math and science. Maybe that’s why so many people tend to hate math—because when you get the wrong answer on a math problem, it’s impossible to defend yourself. You can’t reason your way out of it and there’s no room for interpretation. If you get the wrong answer, you basically just have to face the fact that you just might be an idiot. In other situations when given the freedom to write and explain yourself, you can sound intelligent even when you don't really know the right answer. That's the one plus side to essay questions.

The universe revolves around mathematical equations. I learned that in school. We’ve discovered all sorts of formulas by observing the world around us—the acceleration of gravity, the speed of light, the orbits and rotations of the planets and such. There’s formula’s for everything it seems. Even music, something that would invoke varying definitions of beauty for people, has a precise mathematical makeup behind it. Every note, every rhythm, harmony, and melody, can be scripted out in a kind of formula. This world is remarkable in that way—that both the concrete and the abstract have an inseparable relation to one another and are mysteriously joined by something beyond themselves. I think this points to an incredible designer. It makes my head spin trying to work it all out. Music, like all of the arts, is very hard to nail down. Again, it's like trying to define beauty. But even the most creative, spontaneous, unique form of music has a mathematical make-up behind it. Crazy.

I wish life would work out like one big formula—that as long as you followed all the rules and guidelines everything would turn out right in the end. If it did, you could always hope to arrive at the right answer as long as you tried hard enough and followed all of the necessary steps along the way. You’d never be hurt or disappointed. But I just don’t think life works the same way as math, at least totally. There is similarity in the fact that there's an absolute truth to life—just like the absoluteness in addition and subtraction—that I think is evident by the extreme order and precision of the universe. It’s actually popular nowadays to frown upon the idea of absolute truth and look at those who hold to such beliefs as being narrow minded. People can argue about this all day long (and they do) but truth, by its very definition, is truth regardless of whether or not we’re aware of it. If we fail to believe 2+2=4, it doesn’t make it any less true. So maybe in that sense, at least, life is similar to math because there are things about life and the Giver of life that are absolutely true. It’s the whole equation/formula thing that doesn’t seem to line up all the time, which leads to all this new philosophical thinking on my part and the constant returning to the fact that I’m incapable of understanding things. If you’ve read through a few of these little blogs, you may have picked up on that continuing theme. I should have been an engineer and only dealt with math my entire life.

A passage of scripture that keeps coming to mind through this season of life for me is 1 Cor 1:18-15. Here are a couple snippets:
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God… For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength… He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him. It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption."
I love that. It could even be considered a formula for life: Christ + nothing of ourselves = righteousness, holiness, redemption, peace, joy, and wisdom. And I'd also like to point out that this equation offers a pretty good definition for beauty as well. I take back what I said before about there not being a formula for it.