Back in November, we were studying Exodus 32 which is the part where Aaron and the Israelites make the Golden Calf and worship it as their God. So we were talking about fearing people more than God (that’s why Aaron made the Golden Calf) and casting out idols the way Moses did when he discovered the Israelites worshiping the calf. If you don’t remember, he burns it up and then grinds it to dust, throws it in the water and makes them drink it. Hmmm, gross.
(A little background here: Numb3rs – the TV show about crime fighting brothers? one an FBI agent, the other a mathematician? – is one of my focused interests. It’s one of the things that soothes me when I’m stressed. And I was pretty stressed around that time, so I was kind of perseverating with it. That is, I would watch it all day, every day as I went about my other business. And when I got through the whole series, I’d start over again. I can watch about six to ten episodes a day, depending on how much time I have to spend out of the house, and I get through the whole series in about 1 1/2 to 2 weeks. And then I start over again. From September, when school started, until the other Evanses moved out in March, I think I watched the whole series…enough times to lose track, but I would guess more than ten times.I did take a few days off in October and I watched the Property Brothers for a week, but I got twitchy and went back to Numb3rs. Anyway, back to my story…)
So there’s an episode of Numb3rs with Neil Patrick Harris, it’s called Prime Suspect. He plays a mathematician, Ethan Burdick, who thinks he has solved Riemann’s Hypothesis and some people kidnap his daughter so that he will make them a number sieve so they can break high level internet encryption and hack into government databases and such. (Spoiler alert, spoiler alert! Run away now if you don’t want to find out what happens at the end of this 10 year old episode of a tv show that’s been off the air for five years!) In the process of trying to distill it to a simple algorithm, he realizes that he hasn’t actually solved Riemann’s and they have to fake out the kidnappers to get his little girl back. At the end, they bring his little girl home and there’s this big reunion and it’s beautiful.
So, at one point, Charlie Eppes (“the math brother”) goes over to Ethan’s house to help him work on the algorithm and they have this conversation:
Charlie: I told her I’m here to help you.
Ethan: Yeah, but you’re not. You’re here to talk your brother in the door. And, in case you haven’t realized it, I don’t have time to waste.
Charlie: Look, I think you’d be better off letting him do his job because he’s actually pretty good at it. They’ve figured out that the kidnappers want your proof on the Reimann Hypothesis, your work on number sieves.
Ethan: Well, that’s not exactly the stuff of Sherlock Holmes.
Charlie: They’re going to use its capabilities to break internet encryption. Which means they’ll expect you to distill it down to an algorithm. That would be a huge job under normal circumstances, but, Ethan, with the time limit, and the stress of your daughter’s…
Ethan: Yeah, I know that. I know, okay? 15 years of work, my life’s work, and I have to process it into an algorithm for people who don’t give a damn. To give it up like that, it’s like a part of me is dying.
Charlie: I understand that.
Ethan: More than that, more than anything, I need to get Emily back.
Charlie: Let me help you. I’m not suggesting a collaboration. It’s obviously all your work.
Ethan: I don’t care about that anymore. It’s…I need your help.
Charlie: Then you’ve got it.
Now the thing you have to understand here is that his daughter, Emily, was stolen by a clown from her birthday party, while her dad was working in his study. His window faced the yard and he didn’t notice because he had his headphones on, doing math. So, once you get over how ridiculous it sounds when I say it like that, you can see that he is wracked with guilt.
But what really struck me when I was watching this back in November, was how, in the space of a few lines – from “15 years of work” to “I need your help” – you can see his idol fall. You can almost see it hit him in that pause right before he says “I need your help.” The realization that he lost his daughter because he was too focused on solving a math problem. He was so wrapped up in doing more work, bigger work, better work, finishing his paper for publication; that he never noticed his daughter getting kidnapped. He made being a great mathematician the most important thing and now, she may die, because he can’t actually do the math they are demanding from him.
It’s gut-wrenching. You can see him realize that he has sacrificed his real love to the idol of his work. It’s a perfect image of how we put other things ahead of God; sacrificing him on the altar of our earthly loves, rather than the other way around. And sometimes we don’t realize it until it feels like it is too late and God is gone. But here’s the thing. God is never gone. Matt Maher said it like this:
If you’re scared that you don’t matter
If you’re lost and you need to be found
If you’re looking for a savior
All you’ve gotta do is turn around.
No one listens to you anymore and your heart is broken down
You don’t need to move, love has come to you
All you’ve gotta do is turn around.
And Jesus said it like this:
So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.