Sometimes it seems as if God shows up in the least expected moments or circumstances. But maybe it’s more the case that God is everywhere and we are merely explorers stumbling upon glittering treasures.
Growing up, when my friends were turning sixteen, we heard stories of kids getting cars or huge parties with swimming pools, DJs, and Beyonce. So you can imagine that I had some expectations for a ‘sweet sixteen’ when it was finally my turn. And as a beautiful morning dawned on that fateful day, my dad approached with a smile and proudly handed me…a formula. As in literally, he wrote out a mathematical proof and gave the pages to me, stapled together. It was intended as a birthday present, but what it stood for, I still have no idea. I just remember thanking the man and finishing my soggy cereal before rushing to school. ’Really? Math? I would’ve settled for a cookie’ was one of my lingering thoughts.
As I reflect on my relationship with my dad there are mixed emotions – gratitude interspersed with pain. My dad is a brilliant man: a Korean immigrant who moved to the states to get his PhD in electrical engineering – he’s probably one of the smartest people I know. But that’s pretty much all I know about him. I’d describe him as a classic ‘Korean dad’ (if one exists): a man of few words, cold, stoic, stubborn, prone to incredulous generosity, but also prone to incredible anger. His wrath was a force to behold and often manifested itself in abusive behavior.
My dad is the kind of man who expects his children to excel, whose discipline is fear-based, and has never said the words, ‘I love you’ to us once. He’s the kind of man who gives his children mathematical proofs as birthday gifts, though I don’t know if this is the fish in lieu of snakes that Jesus was referring to in the book of Matthew. As a result I lived much of my adolescence in fear and much of my young adulthood in loathing.
But maybe I inherited my dad’s passion for science and mathematics because as I think about that sweet sixteen formula, the nerdy side of me can’t help but be struck by the spiritual parallels:
f(x) = ?
Without getting too technical, there are three basic components of a function: an input, an output, and a function. The input is the object within the parenthesis, the ‘x’, that will be taken through the function. The output is the end result of the input being put through its paces, it’s not obvious from the get-go what the output will be until the end. The function itself, the ‘f()’ relates the input to the output, like a set of instructions. The input is subject to the function and can’t be transformed into the output without it. And while your input can be anything you want it to be, the outer function f() is unchanging. Depending on what f() instructs x to do, x will do it.
Take for example the simple function:
f(x) = x + 1
In this scenario we can substitute any value we want for x and each input will go through the same steps of adding 1 to itself. So if x = 2 then f(2) = 2+1, or in other words, f(2) = 3. In the same way that f(100) = 101. Now 2 and 100 are very different inputs, producing very different outputs, yet they both were subject to the exact same function.
What if, like mathematical functions, we were the inputs in a Godly function, designed to produce the ideal and perfect output? What if God could take all of us – the good, the bad, and especially the ugly – and transform us into who we were meant to be: an output far greater and stronger than we originally were? In other words, what if our function looks more like:
F(x) = “New X”
Where F() is the Father’s hand, (x) is me / you / us, and “New X” is what we become under God’s guidance and through His Word. God is our function: He gives us a clear set of instructions as to how to live our lives through the Bible, but we cannot be transformed without Him fully encompassing us and giving us the means to follow these instructions.
So we have the technicalities covered, but what are the implications? I believe they are threefold:
- In our current states we are “unfinished”, that is we are more like raw inputs versus our ideal selves, our ultimate outputs
- We cannot be transformed without subjecting ourselves to the Father and devoting ourselves to His Word
- There is an end state that God has designed for us in which we will be completely transformed, unrecognizable from our original, raw state
When I look at these three points they fill me simultaneously with terror and hope. The terror comes from the realization that in our current states we cannot consider ourselves whole or complete. Perhaps this makes perfect sense in light of how broken and sinful we are. “New X” is the ultimate result, and we often don’t get to see it until much later along the process (i.e. the end). This means that at any point in time we’re still works in progress, life then requires further submission, further molding, testing, and application to the conditions around us. This may mean more struggle, more suffering, and fear of the unknown end goal, but this is where hope comes in.
There is hope in knowing that there is a purpose, a final destination created and paved by the One who knows far more than we ever will. He is the ultimate ‘author and perfecter of our faith’ (Hebrews 12:2), the source of all wisdom and understanding (Proverbs 2:6). There is hope and strength in knowing that God, the Creator of the universe, is fully in charge and capable of molding anything and everything to His will. He is the one who sees the fullest potential within us to be transformed into new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). There is a reason those parentheses exist — much like the Father’s arms surrounding us and protecting us as we go through life’s struggles and victories, He must be the one to shepherd us through, as only the good shepherd can.
It’s only natural and acceptable that we would be afraid of this end result. Complete submission and transformation? Sounds like a death sentence. And perhaps it is, but it is death to our naturally selfish, fearful, and prideful selves in order to gain a sentence of eternal life.
Knowing God as unconditionally loving, immeasurably generous, and necessarily sovereign gives us the peace and security of imagining that when, not if, we reach the final output, we will be infinitely better than our original states. The steps we go through, the trials we endure, the suffering we experience may be more reflective of Christ’s life on Earth (Philippians 1:29), but in the end we will be more Christ-like, embodying the fruits of the Spirit and loving life and one another, because that’s ultimately how Christ loves.
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)
Transformation requires recognizing and confronting the worst of ourselves and our sins, turning away from the security and comfort of societal gains and riches, and accepting that life is never as pleasurable as we strive to make it. Transformation, the shedding of our pride, is the only way to complete the equation. But the best part is that God has already done it through Christ. For Christ died on the cross and rose again transformed and triumphant to give us this hope. His promises for a future and for a life of unfathomable joy will never fail. By His grace, He will take us to the end, if we put our faith in Him. This is not a theory or wishful thinking, this is a promise from His Word, and every word of God proves true (Proverbs 30:5), a word which does not return empty but accomplishes the Father’s will (Isaiah 55:11).
So if God is ultimately the one who transforms us, what role do we play in this formula? Well, we must do the work of being transformed, of submitting to the Father and allowing ourselves to undergo iterative change over the course of our lifetime as we continue studying the Word, building a foundation of prayer and spiritual discipline, and developing an intimate relationship with Him. Easier said than done, especially when storms rage around us. I fail every day, and when I equate my dad, a staunch Buddhist, into this formula it seems even more hopeless. It seems impossible that this stoic, fear-inducing man could ever change. But perhaps that’s exactly the point: My dad can’t do it alone, neither can I; none of us can.
Knowing that God is in my corner and has already won the victory enables me to take two steps forward for each one I take backwards when life circumstances drive faith into the furthest recesses of my heart. My dad and I are both imperfect, broken human beings following different paths. Yet I have hope that my heavenly Father sees and knows all, understands how imperfect my faith is, how nonexistent my dad’s, and has laid the groundwork for our individual transformations. It won’t be easy, it will take more prayer, more time than I have patience for, and it may seem hopeless most of the time, but as long as His promises remain, my hope endures.
Sixteen is long gone, but as I flip through the pages of my dad’s gift, I’m supremely grateful. Maybe upon giving it, we both didn’t realize how much of a gift it truly was – a promise and a hope for the future.
Kathryn is the founder of That’s What She. After years spent roaming through the wilderness, she met Christ in adulthood and hasn’t looked back. An avid lover of storytelling and prone to run-ons, she hopes to embark on this journey with all of you and learn quite a few things along the way.