A curious intersection of math and faith

My eldest child has started CCD this year. The acronym CCD stands for “Confraternity of Christian Doctrine,” which is the fancy name Catholics give to Sunday School. For the convenience of everyone, it is held on Wednesday afternoons and kids attend after school. Recently, my child brought home a bookmark emblazoned with the words “God is Love.” It’s a pretty well-known phrase from John 4:8 and seems a good place to start when teaching children about the Christian Faith.

As with most things kid-related in our house, it spent some time on our kitchen table before making its way into a book, presumably to be rediscovered by one of our younger kids much later. And one afternoon, I came into the kitchen and saw it upside down. From that perspective it appeared to me as “Love is God.”

This reminded me of math’s reflexive property, which is taught to high schoolers in algebra. If a = b, the property goes, then it is also true that b = a. Which means that if God is (equals) Love, then also Love equals God. That implies that wherever there is love in the world, that is God. The all-encompassing breadth of that statement reminds me of Jesus’ declaration about loving God and loving neighbor in Matthew 22:40, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

The imperative to love is certainly the main substance of Jesus’ teachings. Love neighbors, commit acts of love to those imprisoned or widowed or sick, be loving to the most despised people in a society–including lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, Samaritan women caught in adultery, occupying soldiers, and so on. Jesus’ main teaching here must be the true guidance for Christianity, and it is consistent with the whole purpose of his incarnation: reconcile humanity to God and atone for the sin of Adam. Our part in being reconciled to God is to be like God. Be Love. That is how we accept the Grace which Christianity teaches is is offered to all.

I’m sure others (including eminent theologians) have remarked on this concept, so I have no illusions that this is new thinking. I know it is controversial, however. The Catholic Church and other Christian denominations often emphasizes the role of obedience and the observance of certain prohibitions, such sex outside of marriage. No doubt this behavior is part of “lov[ing]…God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” or the Great Commandment related in Matthew 22:37. Yet the reflexive property realization that Love is God, however, insists that faith also requires active love in whatever form it takes.

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