Dr. Andy Pate
The Orange Leader
They’re downright scary, modern numbers I mean. Whether it’s about an IRS scandal, the Dow Jones average, Bill Gates’ net worth, the national debt, the lottery or about Sunday’s church attendance, there apparently has to be reported or estimated a figure that tells about the person or the event.
Even those who’ve been schooled in the “new math” must be doing extra homework these days.
Our Christian faith takes numbers seriously. They matter. In the Bible 12 and 40 have special significance: 12 tribes, 12 disciples, 40 days and 40 nights, and so on. Some of the biblical numbers are quite impressive. Methuselah lived 969 years. Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Then, too, and among many other numerical references in the Bible, there are those 144,000 who are to be “saved” in “the Rapture” at the end of the world.
But how are we to use numbers in our daily lives ? Discussion could go on endlessly about this and related questions, and often seems to. But what is really important about numbers? That’s a key question for people of faith, is it not? A couple of points come to mind:
One, Biblically, what clearly matters most about numbers are the persons they point to. In the Good Book numbers are almost always used to describe what real people do or say and what their personal traits are like. When the “Holy” numbers refer to groups they point to personal relationships in community and serve as keys to those relationships. Even the Seven Days of Creation took place to create a world for the first man and the first woman.
Nowhere is the value of the person expressed more beautifully than when Jesus stresses to individuals their personal worth he tells them that for God “even the hairs of your head are numbered.” That’s how valuable every person is.
A second point: the end results are of ultimate importance. Through his wives, Solomon assured the future of his people, God’s people. The 12 disciples took the story of salvation in Jesus the Christ “into all the world.” The 144,000 are “saved.” In The End, whatever the numbers on the Eternity Scoreboard, God wins!
And let us not forget the poignant saying of Jesus that “where two or three are gathered in my name, there will I be also.”
Whether the number is large or small what is most important are the persons of reference and whether something good and wonderful happens to them. That holds for the extremely wealthy and the extremely poor, the mega church and the small church, and for the length of a sermon, however short or long.