Tad R. Callister: Does worldly math or spiritual math govern our lives?

One, plus God, is always greater than the opposition, however formidable the opposing forces may seem. That truth is demonstrated again and again in the scriptures.

Nephi and his brothers had been rebuffed in their first two attempts to obtain the brass plates from Laban. In fact, they had to flee for their lives in their most recent attempt. Laman and Lemuel had had enough. They were ready to give-up and head home.

Then something profound happened — a debate ensued between Laman and Lemuel on one hand and Nephi on the other. It was a classic debate of worldly math versus spiritual math. Laman and Lemuel argued that they could not return to get the plates because Laban was “a mighty man, and he can command fifty, yea, even he can slay fifty; then why not us?” (1 Nephi 3:31). In essence they were saying, “Nephi, don’t you get it — Laban has fifty men, we only have four. It is simple math — just calculate the numbers and Laban wins.”

Nephi, however, was unimpressed with their argument. In summary, he replied, “I don’t care if Laban has fifty men; in fact, I don’t care if he has tens of thousands — what difference does that make? We have the Lord on our side, and four men plus the Lord can always prevail over the opposition.” Or, in Nephi’s exact words, “For behold he [the Lord] is mightier than all the earth, then why not mightier than Laban and his fifty, yea, or even than his tens of thousands?” (1 Nephi 4:1; emphasis added). As it turned out, Nephi’s math prevailed, and the brass plates were obtained.

Moses demonstrated a belief in similar math. Pharaoh’s army, perhaps the most powerful army in the world at the time, was in hot pursuit of Moses and the Israelites, who had just been freed from Egypt. The Israelites could see the Red Sea blocking their path ahead and the Egyptian army quickly closing the gap from behind. There was no visible escape route. All the reasoning of the world combined to say they were doomed.

Finally, realizing there was no worldly solution that could save them, the Israelites cried out to Moses, “Let us alone [in other words, ‘Let’s surrender’]. … For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness” (Exodus 14:12). But Moses was not to be governed by worldly math. He knew there was a higher math. He stretched forth his hand and the Red Sea parted. The Israelites then traveled through on dry ground. The Egyptian army followed but was swallowed up in the sea, so that “there remained not so much as one of them” (Exodus 14:28). The Israelites now knew, at least temporarily, that one plus God is always more than the opposition, however overwhelming the numbers may seem.

Elisha understood this principle. While in the city of Dothan, the enemy host encircled the city to capture Elisha. When Elisha’s servant arose in the morning and saw the multitudinous horses and chariots of the enemy, he said in great alarm, “how shall we do?” In other words, what can we possibly do against so many? Elisha responded by saying something that must have seemed strange, even unrealistic, to his servant, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” Then, upon Elisha’s request, the Lord opened the eyes of his servant “and he saw: and, behold the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2 Kings 6:15-17). It was but a manifestation of the principle that the forces of heaven can always overpower the forces of the world.

The choice between worldly math and spiritual math is a constant test of our faith. It appears again and again in the scriptures, and it will appear again and again in our personal lives. Will we choose Gideon and his little band of 300 soldiers or the Midianites and their tens of thousands? Will we choose Daniel or the lions? Ammon or the robbers? David or Goliath? Men of the world constantly place their bets on Goliath and his minions; believers constantly place their faith in Jesus Christ and His servants.

If we consider paying tithing based on worldly math, we will have no motivation to proceed when expenses exceed revenues. But if our payment is based on spiritual math, nothing can prevent us from paying our tithing — nothing can stop us from seeking the blessings we know God will shower down upon us.

Regardless of the opposition’s numbers or worldly power, there is no secular force that can rob us of our testimony or our exaltation, for God has declared: “fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever” (Doctrine and Covenants 122:9). Spiritual math is a heavenly math that always takes precedence over its worldly counterpart. It helps us know that we “can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth (us)” (Philippians 4:13).

Worldly math is based on reason and that is good, but spiritual math is based on faith in Jesus Christ and that is even better. The former yields the fruits of the world, the latter yields the fruits of eternity.

— Tad R. Callister is an emeritus General Authority and the former Sunday School general president.