How a Mathematician Changed My Spiritual Perspective

I am a broken person, torn down by sin and the temptations that exist in this world. It is easy to slip into the mindset that this is all I am. I forget how God did not make me broken — a fact I have forgotten multiple times. Fortunately, an impactful mathematician reminded me about the dangers that this mindset can cause. 

I am by no means a STEM major. In fact, I am quite the opposite; the words of Shakespeare, Eliot, and Lewis have and always will make infinitely more sense than the components of cells and the general concept of trigonometric functions. That being said, when I learned that I would have to read Pensées by Blaise Pascal — a well-known mathematician and physicist — in my Jerusalem and Athens class, I was vexed.

I am by no means stating that STEM fields are inferior to the humanities. I believe they each contribute something valuable to modern society, and I am delighted to see all of the technological advances that arise because of those professions. In my personal experience, however, I find the process of learning about these subjects mundane. 

I was not excited to read this book. Nevertheless, I bought it from Amazon and did my best to read it with as much intention as I would the philosophical and theological texts we had read before. For those who are unaware, the word “pensées” is French; the English translation is  “thoughts.” Pascal’s book was just that. It was many various ideas and perspectives that he had put together — the contents of which were published after he passed. 

I was astonished to read about his views on theology and how they correlate to the way we should view ourselves and our fellow human beings. It turns out that Pascal was not only a mathematician and physicist but also a religious philosopher. Essentially, his thoughts were meant to serve as a defense for the Christian faith. Many of his claims have efficient substance behind them, but one that stood out the most to me involved the concept of the wretchedness and greatness of mankind. He wrote:

The greatness of man is so evident, that it is even proved by his wretchedness. For what in animals is nature we call in man wretchedness; by which we recognize that, his nature being now like that of animals, he has fallen from a better nature which once was his (Pensées #409).

He goes on to describe how human beings must know the internal balance between their greatness and wretchedness. If they view themselves as too great, they will let their pride make a home in their soul and allow the ego to rule over them, all the while convincing themselves that they do not need a God to guide their actions. On the other hand, those who view themselves as too wretched see themselves as nothing more than any other animal and wallow in distress, completely disregarding God’s gift to mankind. 

At first, I thought this passage seemed to give too much sympathy to the general public. We are the ones who continue to sin, so shouldn’t we acknowledge that wretchedness before we acknowledge any greatness that might be within us?

I quickly realized that this statement of mine fit into the second category: Thinking of humans as too wretched. So, I attempted to approach it from a different angle.

I contemplated the characteristics of Moses, a man who was called to lead God’s people to freedom and did so accordingly. I thought of how his obedience to God came to an abrupt stop in the wilderness when he hit the rock instead of speaking to it as he was told to do, and, as a result, forfeited his right to the promised land.

I thought of David, a shepherd boy who defeated a powerful giant and was later crowned a righteous king under God’s holy command, and how quickly he fell into temptation after watching a married woman bathing from his rooftop.

I thought of Peter, who swiftly denied knowing Jesus multiple times, despite the warning that Jesus gave him. Yet, at the very sight of Him, Peter immediately swam back to the shore to greet his risen Savior and declare his love for Him.

Adam. Jonah. Solomon. Samuel. Many figures in the Bible have disobeyed God in more ways than one. Yet, we still tell their stories. We still mention their names in our songs. We still analyze their decisions in our theology courses. Why is that?

Because their bad deeds do not erase the good. They still took action to bring glory to God and His Kingdom. They were broken, flawed human beings, just like we are – but that does not erase the indisputable fact that they were and forever will be God’s beloved children.

The Lord, in all His wisdom and glory, created us. Sin has tainted our souls, but it did not destroy God’s infinite love for us, nor did it change His desire to see us all enter His Kingdom. Human beings are great because we are God’s creation, set apart through our souls that were crafted by Him. It is essential to remember that our greatness flows directly from God and His image so that we can remain spiritually balanced and maintain the knowledge of ourselves and our identity. 

We are broken, but we are still children of God.

Categories: Faith

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