“Why do I need to know this?”
“When am I ever going to use this?”
Do these questions sound familiar? They do to me! Having taught mathematics for close to two decades now, I would rank these as the top two most frequently asked questions. We can, after all, understand the practicality of learning another language, and it is definitely important to know how to read and write. It is certainly interesting to learn about people and places in geography and how and why things work in science. But mathematics seems to depart from reality as students move up into high school. Moving from basic every day fractions, measurement and counting money to 5th degree polynomials and inverse trigonometric functions, students begin to wonder why on earth they need to learn these abstract concepts that are seemingly unrelated to anything in life. To better understand the struggle that so many students face and to find the answers to these questions, we need a new set of lenses with which to see a subject that, unbeknownst to many of us, has literally turned the world upside down!
First and foremost, mathematics manifests so many aspects of the nature and character of God. Its wonder and mystery, beauty and precision, immutability (or “unchangeableness”) and permanence, order and structure, depth and complexity are indeed a testimony to the very nature of God by Whom and for Whom all things were made. The Author of mathematics has been pleased to reveal Himself through the subject of mathematics so that we, the students of mathematics, may learn more of the excellence and perfection of His being.
Mathematics testifies to God's law which is truth. His rules, laws and principles transcend time and culture. They are universally applicable and binding on all men. In the same way, the rules, laws and principles contained within mathematics are the same all over the world, and they don't change over time. As He is, so are they – the same yesterday, today and forever! This is especially important in a culture where truth is relative - whatever you want it to be. Mathematics cuts through the postmodern fog and says no, there is a standard – an absolute standard of truth. There is true and false. There is black and white. There IS right and wrong.
God Himself used all of mathematics to create the world and He sustains the world by these very same principles. It was all there in the beginning and He left it for man to discover, to use, and to enjoy progressively over the unfolding of time. The principles of mathematics explain how and why so many things work the way they do. Mathematics is extremely useful, practical, and relevant in the real world - from the basic, everyday math that we all use in varying degrees to the highly complex and specialized math that many students will go on to use in a career to which God may call them.
Mathematics is one of the many tools that has been given to man for his benefit, enjoyment, and as a way to take dominion over the earth. With the progressive unveiling of mathematics over the centuries have come many exciting inventions and innovative discoveries that have blessed and enhanced our lives. In the tapestries of engineering, science, medicine, business - you name it - mathematics is that common thread that permeates its way through all of them. We must realize that even if we don't end up doing something directly with math, every day we directly benefit from someone else who has and is doing it. Whether we realize it or not, our whole lives are better because of mathematics.
In part 2 we will visit the gym to tackle an unsettled matter. “Okay, I understand that God’s glory is revealed in mathematics, but I still just can’t help wondering sometimes . . . when am I ever going to actually USE any of this stuff?"
Check back next month for part 2 in this 3 part blog series.
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