A Pitfall of Mathematicians…

The first several minutes of this podcast were not recorded. As such, the intro is printed here.

How do you react when you are treated unjustly? I remember my friend Seth, who was attending Clarion University in the 1970’s when the college suddenly dropped his major and told him he could either change to a different degree program or drop out. Seth felt that was unfair. It was.

And I remember another friend of mine, Jim. He wanted to be a State Policeman, but after he received his degree in criminology, the personnel at the PSP told him they were required to hire minorities, and although he was more qualified, he would not be hired.  Both of these men faced something they considered unfair to them.

How did they respond?


Seth responded by figuratively crossing his arms and saying, “That’s not fair!” He walked away from school and took a job stocking groceries on the night-shift and smoking pot on weekends. Despite the fact that he was incredibly intelligent, he let his life fritter away until it ended tragically in a car accident, driven by one of his friends who was intoxicated.

Likewise, Jim responded in anger, but he quickly realized that he could not expect life to treat him fairly. But instead of pouting about it he invested himself in what became a very successful private business that he eventually sold at a great profit so he could retire early. I am pretty sure Jim’s quality of life as a businessman was better than it would have been, had he been able to use his criminology degree. And it was much better than it would have been had he remained bitter toward society and toward God.

The Bible has some examples of people who, feeling as though God was being unfair, responded poorly. Jonah was one of them. As you page through his short book, you can see that in Jonah’s story. It begins with Jonah’s call.

Jonah 1 (NIV) 1The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

We don’t know why, at this point, but Jonah didn’t want to go preach to the wicked people of Nineveh. He ended up being ejected from the ship and in the belly of a great fish.

4Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up.

11The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”
12“Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”

15Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm.

17But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.

2:10 10And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

3:1 1Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: 2“Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” 3Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city—a visit required three days. 4On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.”

And the people of Nineveh repented. (The podcast below picks up here.)

5The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. 6When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”

That’s repentance.

10When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.

Now in chapter four you see why Jonah was on the run in the first chapter.

4:1 1But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.

Here is Jonah’s problem: He felt God was being unjust in forgiving the wicked Ninevites.

Jonah had a mathematical formula in his head that went like this:

Good Behavior = A Good Life
If I am a good person, my life should be good.

Bad Behavior = A Bad Life
If you are a bad person, you should suffer.

Some of us have the same formula. If we don’t get rid of it, we’ll be right beside Jonah, despondently sitting on a hillside pouting.

This podcast helps us avoid The Pitfall of the Mathematician.