There are essentially two branches of mathematics: pure maths and applied maths. Pure maths deals with the development of the principles of mathematics for the sake of the principles of mathematics. It’s quite close to philosophy in that sense. The interest is in the subject itself. It’s a bit like ‘art for art’s sake’ in a way. It’s just there. It exists, therefore we have a duty to explore it and discover more about it. For most of us, though, to be honest, a lot of pure maths is just way beyond us. We can’t see the point. We glaze over when it comes to the beauty of the Fibonacci sequence or Pascal’s triangle, for example!
Applied maths is maths that’s studied for the sake of application, however. It’s the application of mathematics’ techniques to everyday problems. For example, you could apply matrix theory to linear programming problems to solve problems of scarce resources. You need the actual maths bit to do this, but you apply it to something specific – computing, engineering, economics, whatever. It has a point. We can see its relevance. We may even use it ourselves in our everyday lives!
Theology is a little bit like that. I believe that it has a relevance all of its own, for it teaches us about God and surely there’s nothing more fascinating than learning about God! But faith is more than just knowing about God. It’s more than knowing the facts. It’s applying those theological facts to our situations and our everyday lives. Mary’s response to what she heard from the angel is a shining example of applied faith, because she responded to God’s word with confidence and faith.
When God speaks to us, He demands a response. What He says to us may not be as staggering as the angelic announcement to Mary that she was to become the mother of the Son of God, but to us, nonetheless, His words can be astounding, challenging us and leading us in new directions and new paths. Our response needs to be the same as Mary’s: ‘May it be to me as You have said; may Your word to me be fulfilled.’ (Luke 1:38 TNIV) As we submit to God’s word and allow His plans to shape our lives, we learn to apply faith in the same way that all the saints of old have done and we engage in His miraculous story.