Do the math

Readings for April 8, 2018

Divine Mercy Sunday
Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 118
1 John 5:1-6
John 20:19-31

Let’s talk about math. It may be understated to say that math has never been my best subject. I can’t even play Cribbage—all that adding up to 15 and advancing 2 holes for each is more math than I can do without aid of a spreadsheet. Even so, one of the revelations I had in my faith journey came when I read Pensees by noted mathematician Blaise Pascal. Pascal was the father of probability and is recognized as the inventor of the calculator (though not the kind you can get at Target). “Pascal’s wager” is a well-known argument for belief in God. Using a theory of probability he determined while trying to help a friend win at gambling, Pascal asserts that there is a probability for winning if you choose to believe in God and a probability for losing if you do not. According to Pascal, there are just two, opposite convictions—either God exists or He does not. If I choose to believe and am wrong, I have lost nothing. If I choose to believe and I am right, I gain everything. The opposite is true if I choose not to believe. I can either be wrong and lose everything, or be right and gain nothing. The greatest probability for success, then, is to choose to believe.

Preceding Pascal by a few millennia, St. John offers his own if/then mathematical theorem on believing in God. According to St. John, believing that Jesus is my Lord and Messiah, begotten by God, equates a love of God. And, if I love God, then I must love the One begotten by Him. And “whoever is begotten by God conquers the world” because “Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

Thomas struggled with the math. Knowing that believing would bring him a greater probability of joy and success didn’t sway him. Knowing that believing that Jesus is the Messiah would make him a victor over the world was insufficient for him. Thomas needed physical proof of Jesus’ resurrection. When he got that proof and found himself face-to-face with Jesus, Thomas proclaimed Jesus Lord and Savior. But as Jesus told Thomas, this is not faith, and while Thomas thought physical proof could equate belief, Jesus told him that the belief he seeks is not possible without faith.

I can relate to Thomas’ struggle and I think he has been unfairly maligned as a doubter. To me, Thomas’ story is less about doubt as it is confirmation of the incarnation. In offering to let Thomas touch his wounds, Jesus offers physical evidence of his death and resurrection. Additional instances of Jesus’ resurrection appearances are presented in each gospel. In John’s gospel (21:1-14), Jesus appears to his disciples having made a breakfast of fish on the beach. In Luke (24:42-43), Jesus asks for some fish to eat. In Matthew (28:9), the disciples “embraced his feet.” Each of these accounts emphasize that Jesus came back to life in his human form. I cannot touch the wounds or embrace the feet of a spirit. Ghosts do not eat. Rather than a retribution of Thomas’ doubts, then, the story offers an opportunity for belief with “proof” of the resurrection.

How so? With more math. An inferential mathematical argument using established hypotheses is a called a proof. Jesus’ inferential physical post-resurrected presence supports the hypothesis of both his divinity and his humanity. While all of this math is starting to hurt my brain, it offers extremely good news. What the equation points to, is that the Word Incarnate was indeed incarnate! History indicates Jesus truly lived. His mortal wounds provide verification he truly died. His human presence provides substantiation he truly rose. Jesus truly is the Word made flesh!

Ultimately, all belief comes down to faith. Faith is both a choice and a gift. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that faith is an “authentically human act” as well as a “gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by Him.” Faith can only work when human intellect cooperates with divine grace (CCC 153-155). Such a confluence of humanity and divinity requires trust. Trust is presupposed by love. Faith is summative. Do the math:
Love +
Trust +
Belief +

Faith is all-in. The Greatest Commandment—to love God with all my heart, mind, and strength—is wholly encompassing. The irony of me needing to do the math to put things together for my faith is not lost on me. For me, reading Pensees aligned my mind with my heart. And I know I have no strength except in faith. As the Psalmist proclaims, “I was hard pressed and was falling, but the Lord helped me. My strength and my courage is the Lord and he has been my savior.” I’ve done the math. I’ve read the proof. In faith, I believe!

You expired, Jesus but the source of life gushed forth for souls, and the ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world.
O Fount of Life, unfathomable Divine Mercy, envelop the whole world and empty Yourself out upon us.
O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in You.
-Chaplet of Divine Mercy opening prayer

2 thoughts on “Do the math

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