Cancellation Theory

March 24, 2008

Jane Jimenez

Jane Jimenez

Cancellation in mathematics was always fun for me, a time when one could rid oneself of numbers instead of being required to create new ones out of sums and quotients.

I was especially grateful that cancellation was useful in the division and multiplication of fractions.  Imagine that a teacher, who heretofore had made me account for every number written in my math problems, now gave me permission to strike through numbers, no matter how large, canceling out any number that appeared both above and below the line.

As I reflect on Senator Obama’s Pennsylvania speech, explaining his relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright and their separate views on race relations, I find myself flinching.  While I trust that his heart wants to repair the harm done by hateful sermons, I feel Obama is relying on the human cancellation theory, failing to ultimately offer us a solution for bringing Americans together across the vast divide.

Certainly Obama is not alone.  The Human Cancellation Theory has been around since Genesis.

Applied to human behavior, applied singularly to human bad behavior, this cancellation theory requires you to forgive…lets me off the hook…absolves me of my misdeeds…leaving me with the same gleeful feelings I used to get from striking through numbers in math.  There are two functions to this human cancellation theory.

I did something bad, I did something good:  my good cancels my bad.

I did something bad, you did something bad: your bad cancels my bad. 

Obama’s speech, trying to pave a way of understanding and forgiveness for his pastor, relied on them both.

Yes, Rev. Wright said some hateful, spiteful things.  But, on the other side of the line, he has created programs serving the hungry.  Cancelled.

Yes, Rev. Wright has spurred others to reviled their brothers and sisters on the basis of skin color, but on the other side of the line, so did Obama’s grandmother.  Cancelled.

No time is more important than Easter Sunday for considering reconciliation of human relationships.  The good news is that there is a path to canceling our bad deeds.  But it is not as we, as mere humans, would devise it.

As we mathematically consider our actions, both good and bad, we are inclined to divide the impact of our sins while multiplying the sins of others.  From the human perspective, reflecting on our own condition, we use human math to calculate the cost of our sins as forgivable…and cancelled…while those of our foes multiply on into infinity.

One pastor suggested this human math is like looking down on two people trying to jump to forgiveness and salvation across the Grand Canyon.  From the edge of the canyon, I might leap out six feet.  An Olympic star might make it 30. But we both will fail in the end.  Six feet, or thirty, both attempts are woefully inadequate.

Obama’s speech this week dealt with a problem that, if relying on one single human serving as president, will be unsolvable.  While we all want race problems to go away, we know they are founded on human relationship problems that have existed since Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel.

To be fair, we are expecting Obama to do the impossible.  Yes, he has encouraged us to believe he is the savior who will lead us to the impossible dream of reconciliation and peace.  For our part, we have bought into his promises because we wanted to.   It seems the easier path.  But relying on human math, we are all doomed to fail.

Peace that comes through a true cancellation of sin comes at a price.  For Christians, we were bought at a price, a price freely paid on the cross, offering the cancellation we hope for…the cancellation we need…that when freely given and freely received, brings love, brings reconciliation, brings life everlasting.  If there’s a message worth sitting in a pew for twenty years to absorb, this is it.

Happy Easter.  He is risen.  He is risen indeed.