Most of us start learning about math feeling like this.
It is fun and easy most of the time. We enjoy the patterns and the thrill of getting a problem right. Then we delve into algebra or pre-algebra and we start to feel more like this.
We might be the taller person in the picture above who feels more capable than other students—the concepts make sense and we enjoy problem solving, and we’re thankful for something that is a little more challenging and interesting. Or we might feel like the smaller person in the picture— overwhelmed by the mountain of mathematics and distracted by the superior math skills of others.
But it is only a matter of time until everyone realizes that a more accurate picture looks like this.
Eventually we all encounter a field of mathematics that challenges us. Some of us face our limitations in high school and others of us do not until college or graduate school. But unless we are Sir Isaac Newton (one of the inventors of calculus) at some point, we all feel frustrated and inadequate in the face of mathematics.
And we’ll be stuck there—limited by the finite abilities of our minds and exasperated by the difficulty of mathematics until we each realize that the true picture actually looks like this:
We run into our own limitations when we study mathematics because we are finite creatures trying to understand a world created by an infinite God (Psalm 139:6). We will all have moments when we do not understand or when we forget steps and make errors in our calculations. That is to be expected. Mathematics is not about checking off a course requirement or putting something impressive on our high school transcript. It is a way of better understanding the universe around us; a universe that is created by an omnipotent and omniscient Creator (Colossians 1:16–17).
In fact, even mathematics is limited in its ability to interpret and predict the universe. In many fields of mathematics what we do know is far surpassed by what we do not yet understand. This is because a wise and eternal Being created our world. We should not be surprised then to feel frequently baffled by the world’s complexities.
When we have this correct perspective, it allows us to enjoy the study of mathematics. Understanding mathematics helps us better understand the character of God and equips us to explore His universe (Romans 1:19–20). The equations, graphs, and formulas in this book lay the foundation for engineering, computer science, and other fields that help us measure and comprehend the universe. They are the first stepping stones on a path that allow us to better understand the world God created each day.
As we study mathematics we will encounter order, truth and beauty—traits of this universe that point to the character of its Creator. And that is why we should study mathematics, not so we can fulfill a requirement or create a new scientific invention. We learn mathematics because it is an opportunity to worship God with our minds as we seek to know and understand Him better.