2 x 12 = 24
Sometimes the easiest path to success is the surest way to miss the whole point of the story.
My wife and I were discussing New Math. I was reading an article to her, which explained why children answering the question, “2×12=?” did not get credit for answering “24.” This seemed an amazingly obvious example of bad teaching to me. To my wife, it was utter foolishness. Why shouldn’t these students get credit? “24” is clearly the right answer. But is it really? Is it always the right answer?
When I looked at the solution, I was surprised to see the text instructing students on how to solve the problem by breaking it down into its base 10 components. The text taught pupils more than the fact that 2×12=24, but why, when and how 2×12=24.
The problem with rote memorization is that sometimes 2×12=101. In a base 3 system, that is.
To be clear, 2×12 can represent an infinite amount of actual quantities . It depends on what the amount “1” represents. Is it 1 group of threes? Is it the familiar 1 group of ones? Or is it 1 group of nines? “1,” without context, actually means nothing at all.
My wife, however, was only persuaded I had gone mad.
Context is everything.
Is it wrong to lie?
Is it wrong to kill?
Is it wrong to hate or be intolerant?
It clearly depends on the paradigm you are considering. Rahab lied and the LORD counted it as a great act of faith. Jael lied to gain the trust of a soldier in need of shelter, only to drive a tent stake through his head. God loved her courageous act. Phinneas threw his javelin through two people for having sex in Israel’s camp and it was accounted to him as righteousness. The God of love forbids the worship of both Shiva and Mohammed and the practice of witchcraft called for the death penalty.
The scriptures are not merely a history lesson. The Word tells us the why, how and when of Yahweh, the back story of God coming to live in the hearts of men. To memorize the laws of God and thoughtlessly obey them misses the whole point of the law, which is there to reveal the complex heart of Yahweh to His people. The exceptions, counterintuitively, often tell us more about God than the rule.
Why did God command His people to never be kind to a Moabite? Indeed, Naomi’s husband and sons ignored God’s command and died in Moab. Yet Yahweh chose Ruth, a lone Moabite woman, to receive His overflowing mercy and grace; but only after Naomi urged Ruth and her sister to return to their demon gods.
Why did God make such a statute and then extend kindness to Ruth? How did Yahweh see faith in Him through Ruth’s relationship with Naomi? What does it tell us about Yahweh that Ruth felt bold enough to choose a God who did not choose her? What did Ruth know about God that allowed her to travel to a land where everyone was forbidden to show her kindness, especially after Naomi declared Yahweh had abandoned her? Ruth’s Jewish husband, brother-in-law and father-in-law had all perished at the hand of the LORD. And what did Boaz know that no one else knew, and how did he learn it? Are we to always obey God? Does God expect such obedience? Does He even want it?
But one can see the Word says, simply, “obedience is better than sacrifice.” Onan learned that lesson the hard way. Indeed, doesn’t 2×12 always equal 24?
Context is the difference between obedience and foolishness. When a five year old stays out of the street because his mother tells him it’s unsafe, we think the child is obedient. When that child is forty and still won’t cross the street by himself, we consider him, at best, an idiot.
Why does God act the way He does? How are we to fulfill His will in our lives when He responds in such unexpected ways? When are we to act with fury against our enemies and when are we to to act with compassion? One size never fits all.
One thing is sure. The story we read tells us something about its author. Seven plus five often equals forty with the LORD. God says if He were hungry, He would not tell us, yet He asks us to search the depths of His heart. The Word tells us to seek the LORD. The time comes, however, when God keeps people from understanding His Word, lest they repent and He must forgive their sins.
Rote obedience looks good, but it denies the power of God. Without understanding or revelation, the Pharisees searched the scriptures, as many do today, thinking they had everlasting life. But it is a heartfelt embrace of the demands of our cross and our reliance on the resurrection life that rises from our ashes which leads to Life. It is not obedience with a distant heart. It is the passionate, painful embrace of the demands of truth and love that brings us to our knees. If we do not understand what God is trying to destroy in our lives, we can never understand what He is trying to build. Without understanding, we can never buy a ticket on Mr. Yah’ wild ride.