Doing the maths

I’ve read a few pieces this week suggesting that public sector pensions aren’t actually unaffordable. I might usually trust the New Statesman more than the Evening Standard but they both put forward a similar argument stating that it’s a myth that we can’t afford to continue to pay public sector workers the same level of pensions. One argument I particularly appreciated was one in the ES which suggested that if pensions get cut so that people pull out of them, the money supposedly saved on pensions will be needed anyway for benefits for people without sufficient pension to support them. When trying to calculate the best course of action, whatever works in the short-term is not necessarily the best long term solution.

‘Do the math’ was part of Dr House’s surprisingly helpful advice to his boss, Cuddy who was trying to negotiate a deal with an insurance company in a season 6 episode I re-watched recently. His advice came from his own skills in poker, where betting on your hand is most reliable if you can avoid emotions and realistically assess the probability that your hand will win. While I’m not as good as some at totting up the probabilities, recognising how many ‘outs’ you have is something I can just about manage. This is done by working out how many different cards would actually allow you to finish the straight or flush or whatever that you need to have a strong hand. If you’re relying on one particular card out of the pack, the odds are pretty long and it’s probably wiser to fold, or bluff that you’re sorted already.

As an A level student I studied Maths and Further Maths and used to be able to calculate the mechanics of forces on a snooker table in a way that never translated into actual sporting ability. It’s one thing to be able to calculate that I need to hit a ball at a particular angle at a particular speed allowing for whatever friction etc. It’s an entirely different matter to actually have the skill and dexterity to deliver – and unsurprisingly I wouldn’t be able to do either now. I’ve forgotten so much maths that I sometimes wonder why on earth I spent so much time learning it, but I have argued recently that it actually helped me to learn to think logically. Taking time to do things step by step in a logical argument is an important skill in creating essays or lectures and I think some of my explaining skills probably owe something to the time I spent demonstrating proof by induction and other joys of pure maths.

I was thinking about maths in church this morning as well. Although I believe the truth that God loves me, sometimes it doesn’t feel like that counts for much. There are so many billions of people on the planet that it’s hard to feel significant or that we matter to God, and sometimes when other people seem too busy with closer friends or children it feels like there’s just not enough love to go round. But I got to thinking how God’s love and grace are infinite. Infinity divided by two is infinity. Infinity divided by three hundred is still infinity. Infinity divided by 7,007,049,093 people on the planet is still infinity. God’s love for me can still be great and powerful, even if I share it with billions of other brothers and sisters around the world.

We shared communion this morning and I was reminded how several of Jesus’ miracles involved the multiplication of wine and bread so that there was more than enough for everyone. When we’re thinking of God’s resources, we don’t have to worry about fiscal stimulus or future pension pots. There is more than enough for all our needs, although not for our greed, as Gandhi famously stated. As I seek to be generous to friends and family members this Christmas I’m also looking at catalogues from organisations who trade fairly and help those in poverty around the world. Maybe I can make a difference with gifts that give more than once, and maybe I can also be sharing some of God’s justice, peace and precious gift of life through Christ to all who will receive.

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