What mathematical symbol best expresses the Gospel?
We instinctively and unconsciously gravitate towards viewing our faith through the lens of addition. Consider the axiomatic belief that God wants us to grow in our faith. Growth is a metaphor of addition. We grow when we add new capabilities, knowledge, and habits of character that we previously lacked. Similarly, the prosperity Gospel is about addition. We engage in certain behaviors and God adds His blessings to us in response.
We also talk about multiplication. God, we say, wants the Church to multiply. After all, Jesus told his disciples to make disciples of all nations. This is a spiritual reinterpretation of God’s command to Adam and Eve: “Be fruitful and multiply.”
Addition and multiplication are important in the Christian life, but neither constitutes the foundation of Christianity, which is a heart posture of subtraction. We become less and less only to discover God, and our true Self, more and more. According to Richard Rohr:
The counter-intuitive nature of the Jesus-journey shows it is not at all about getting, attaining, achieving, performing, or succeeding (all of which tend to pander to the ego). Jesus' spirituality is much more about letting go of what we do not need anyway. It more often involves unlearning than learning.
Paul tells the Philippians that Jesus emptied himself and took the form of a slave, only to exhort the Philippians to get busy learning the same math. Subtraction is about letting go, relinquishment, kenosis, surrender, and taking the lowest place. John the Baptist put it best: “He must increase, I must decrease.”
Holy subtraction. Not only is it the foundation on which healthy addition and multiplication are built, but subtraction alone can prevent that dreadful cancer that Jesus prayed would not destroy the Church: division.