‘I had made a compromise with God. Spiritual things and the difficult challenges that I could not tackle were for God, but decisions about my career, my future wife, and other things that were important to me – that was my job and I knew how to do it.’
Sound familiar? This is how Enrique Mota, mathematician and a founding member of GBU Spain, viewed life when he started university.
In a recent interview Enrique said: ‘My parents were both Christians. When I went to university I thought I was a Christian, but towards the end of my studies I went to a GBU Spain conference where I heard Vinoth Ramachandra (currently IFES Secretary for Dialogue and Social Engagement) speak. He talked about the game of marbles. Sometimes we
I was in my final year of university, and all my plans had been destroyed.
try to play with God, but we cheat and hide some marbles in our pockets. He said that we should give everything to God, and he was right. You have to give every marble that you have to God, and then it works perfectly.
‘By then I was in my final year of university, and all my plans had been destroyed. I had to accept that I had failed at “my job”.
‘So I said to God, “Do what you want with me.” And he did. I finished my studies in July, and in September I began my new job at the university. That sequence of events was a sign that I attribute to God, because by this time I was ready to accept whatever solution he presented. The doors were opened and I entered.’
Since that time, Enrique has reflected a lot on finding a career and being a Christian in academia. ‘An image that we sometimes get from the evangelical point of view is that if you want to serve God you should be a pastor. If you are not a pastor you can be a missionary, a doctor or a teacher. But there is no aspect of culture that is outside the grace of God. We need to be able to offer a perspective of God in every area, including mathematics. So when people ask me, ‘Why are you a mathematician?’ I respond that I like it and I think that I can do something useful through my work.
‘I think there is no “Christian mathematics”. There are good mathematicians or bad mathematicians, but there is no other distinction. There are some mathematicians who are also Christians, and who see their work as an act of service to God; I think that is totally acceptable. We should try to support these people.
‘Mathematics, for me, is beautiful. It shows me that the God I believe in is great. In mathematics we have a tool that models structures and events that are deeply embedded in the fabric of the universe. You can write the problem as an equation, add some constants, and find a solution. It works. You can make predictions and confirm them with an experiment. We construct models of reality and they function – they function wonderfully.’
There is no aspect of culture that is outside the grace of God.
All this is grounded, Mota believes, in two things. First, God has given us the ability to solve problems, to understand how his creation works. Secondly, though we often fail to understand, to find solutions, we can go on searching because we know the universe, including mathematics, reflects a God who is knowable.
But there are still limits to what we can know. ‘Mathematicians try to solve problems, formulating them, investigating and so on, but we know that what we are using is only a model of reality. The real problem is more complex.
We are not bound to a fixed model that can never fully describe all the facets of our Almighty God. Maintaining a certain distance – not a very big one but a distance nonetheless – between the model and reality is a healthy attitude, because the model may let you down. For example, sometimes the Bible presents God as a craftsman working with his hands, but God is not just the “maker” because he also became one of us.’
‘God with us’ is a mystery that we may never fully understand, but let that not stop us from applying our minds to what has been revealed to us, confident that in doing so we are taking captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).