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Do Numbers Matter? Part One
I read an editorial over the Thanksgiving Holiday that essentially said American culture was broken and beyond repair. It cited our consumerist mentality, skyrocketing divorce rate, obsession with entertainment, and the willingness of many to camp out for days to buy a Playstation III, then turn around and sell it on Ebay for $10,000 to someone who could not wait til after Christmas to have one. Part of our problem, according to this editorial, is our corporate, personal, and even religious obsession with the bottom line; numbers.
This perspective caused me to ask a very important question…do the numbers really matter?
Of course, the answer depends on the context of the question. Are we talking about interest rates or the price of college tuition? Are we talking about attendance at Sunday School or the statistics of our favorite quarterback? (Tony Romo followed by Peyton Manning, in that order, in my opinion).
In one sense, when numbers become the bottom line something very valuable is lost. If all a church ever does is count bodies in seats on Sundays, they will soon find those bodies disappearing for a lack of substance in the services. If a corporation only cares about profit margins, they soon lose sight of issues like professional excellence, the quality of their product, or employee and customer relations. So in one respect, I am forced to conclude that numbers, by themselves, do not really mean that much.
There is another side to the equation, though. If the numbers only represent dollar signs then they become a success-o-meter by which, in business work or the church, we feel more profitable or holy than our competitors. But if numbers represent things we value, like people and relationships, suffering and injustice, or those who have never heard the gospel, then I suggest they indeed matter greatly, not just to us, but to God as well.
Let me illustrate my point.
How many years have I been married? Five? Eight? Does it matter? Of course it does. I have been married seven years, and that number is important because it represents, in a diluted yet significant way, my relationship with Charie.
How many children do I have? One? Four? Actually, I have two (Jacob and Joseph) and I had better know that, because the number of offspring in my home means something.
How much is your monthly mortgage?
Your monthly health insurance?
Your weekly salary?
All of these things are represented by numbers. Of course the actual numbers mean nothing, but they symbolize the things in life we love (our family) and the things we need to survive (a home, income, etc).