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On faith: The exponential power of God’s love

From Pastor Tom Murray

There is a legend that tells how the game of chess was devised by an Eastern mathematician named Sessa. When Sessa showed his invention to the king, he was so amazed by it that he gave him the right to name whatever price he wanted as his reward. Since he was a very clever man, Sessa chose to be rewarded in this way: For the first square of the chessboard, he would receive one grain of rice. For the second square, two grains. For the third square, four grains. Then eight, sixteen, thirty-two, sixty-four and so on, with each of the 64 squares on the board doubling the amount from the previous square.

Now, the king was kind of like me. He wasn’t very astute when it comes to mathematics. Since it seemed like such a bargain, he quickly accepted and ordered that the rice be counted out and delivered. When the treasurer told him that it would take more than all the assets of the entire kingdom to pay the debt, the king was incredulous. How can that be? Well, it’s the power of exponential growth. In fact, the number of grains of rice owed to Sessa totaled 18,446,744,073,709,551,615.That’s roughly a thousand times the amount of rice grown around the world last year. And this all happens simply by doubling the number on each of the 64 squares.

I like to think that this is how God’s love for us is. God’s love for this world is exponential, not linear. And maybe that’s why we have such a hard time seeing God’s presence at work in our lives. Perhaps when we search for evidence of God’s love for humanity, we look right past it, because we fail to see that it is our own hands and hearts that multiply God’s presence in the world. We have convinced ourselves that we are just one person, one family, one congregation, one community.

God’s compassion permeates into the brokenness of this world through us, so that each and every person might come to know of the love that is extended to them through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. As disciples of the risen Christ, we are called to live a faith that is exponential. Each life that we touch, through our love for our neighbor, through our care for the lost, through our insistence on justice for the outcast, the homeless, the immigrant and the imprisoned, then touches the lives of others as they in turn live out the gospel.

Living out the gospel of Jesus is never a linear process. It ripples outward from the center, changing not just individuals, but whole communities. Sharing the gospel means accepting those whom we may seem to have nothing in common with. It means seeking to understand those who have never held a Bible in their hands, confessed a creed, held a candle while singing “Silent Night,” or heard the words “the Lord be with you” and instinctively responded with “and also with you.”

When we commit ourselves to living as a community of disciples, the kingdom that we are invited to proclaim grows like grains of rice set out on a chessboard, beginning with just a single kernel, and growing until whole communities have been touched by our love.

Pastor Tom Murray serves at the Lutsen and Finland Lutheran churches.