In the middle of an election year, with gas prices rising, the market falling, and the human costs of war constantly on our mind, I’ve been thinking of how inclined I am to live by the numbers.
In so many ways numbers, statistics, and polls can be deceiving. On one hand, we need to measure our gains and losses. Even the Bible itself tells us that it is wise to keep track of our days and resources (Psalm 90:12; Prov. 27:23). The problem comes, however, when after counting our numbers, we are tempted to count on them.
David, the giant-killer, is an example of how easy it is to forget the math of God. For awhile he looked like the least likely to forget that God has different standards of measure than we do (2 Samuel 22, 23). When David stood before Goliath with 5 stones and a slingshot, he saw so clearly what it means to live– not by human indicators of strength– but by the strong hand and arm of God.
Late in life, however, the man after God’s own heart forgot what he once knew. He began to think of national security in quantifiable terms. To reassure himself, the aging head of state insisted on an census to measure his nation’s human resources. Against strong advice and counsel that questioned his motives, David insisted on a headcount of the men who could be drafted for war (2Samuel 24:1-4). Only when the census was done did he realize how wrong his motives had been. With a heartfelt prayer of deep regret, he asked the Lord to forgive him (2Samuel 24:10).
What David forgot is what I often forget. There is both an upside and a downside to numbers. Numbers are wonderful when we see them as gifts in the hand of God. David’s adviser realized this. He told David that he wished the Lord would give David a hundred times more people than he already had (24:3; see also Deuteronomy 1:9-12).
Numbers are a terrible trap, however, whenever they represent people or things on which we trust. In his later years, David forgot–for awhile– the confidence that made him great (2 Samuel 22:1-4, 35-41). Numbers, as important as they are, cannot be counted on.
And so I am asking you to think with me today about what we are doing with the numbers of our lives. Are we forgetting that one of the greatest accomplishments of our life could still be God plus one– one person, one day, or one test of our heart– when met with one grace-filled act of faith, or hope, or love?