Through repentance one begins to learn the beauty of mathematics, and that process brings order and freedom. J.R.R. Tolkein said, “The essence of education is repentance.” It seems that, among other educational disciplines, the process of learning mathematics is uniquely humbling. One begins, teacher or student, with the humiliation of ignorance – I do not know what to do, nor how to do it. We naturally fight against anything that reveals either what we do not know or what we cannot understand. To crucify our pride and acknowledge our dearth of understanding must be the beginning of our learning. But in mathematics our humbling doesn’t end at the beginning. It repeats itself, lesson by lesson, as our growing understanding pushes our ignorance back and illuminates the greater vista of the unknown. We find in the unknown our God, who reveals His absoluteness and perfection through numbers.
Beside the broader repentance that occurs, a teacher must also contend with minute-by-minute conviction. Frustration with the student, or with our own inability to explain mathematical concepts will result in many a whispered, ”Jesus, forgive me and help me.” To come up against a student’s God-given mental maturity timeline and submit willingly to His design requires a laying down of our own ideas about how quickly a child “should” learn. We must crucify the pride that spills out in retorts such as, “how can you NOT understand this? I have already explained it!” Our students’ natural tendency to laziness must be “put off” as we together “put on” discipline and perseverance. This comes with repentance. Our pride is broken upon the rocks of numbers and the Truth they reveal.
Our humiliation, however, leads us to freedom. We no longer have the fear that hampers our efforts to learn – the fear that, in the end, none of it makes sense. In the beauty of mathematics, God has revealed Himself. If there is truth to be found here in the music of quantifying, then The Truth, Himself, must Be! If there is truth in an equation, and I can find it, then I am free to know that the greater Truth is also knowable. The answers that I find give me freedom in that sphere as Andrew Kern has said, and they also offer an invitation to learn more – the knowledge leads from one concept on to another. This allows for some healing of our fractured souls and a further opening of our eyes.
We desperately need our hearts healed from the disharmony and discord that sin has wreaked upon the world. The forms that are a natural part of learning arithmetic are used to order and train our minds. These forms testify to the God of rhythm and forms. Every mathematical problem that ends in a right answer is a part of the process that will culminate in all things being brought together in Christ. As the cross is, along with an infinite number of other truths, an image of order being brought to the cacophony of our sin-marred universe, in one minute sense a correctly answered math problem stands proof that order has been brought to disorder. In a world that seems to be in chaos, the study of mathematics is a means by which God reveals Himself, humbles humanity, and heals brokenness.