The Impossible Task of Quantifying Value

I'm not overly fond of numbers. Oh, I understand them, can maneuver them through arithmetic, fractions, geometry. Sometimes I can even manipulate them in my head. Only a fool would suggest they aren't necessary, and I'm no fool. But on the whole I don't like to deal with them. 

One reason perhaps, is that they are close to a foreign language to me. When I look at them, I have to think about them. It's not so with Bonnie. She can look at a string of numbers and read them like one reads a headline. I'm more the kindergartener, painfully sounding out the words. I can do it, it just takes more effort.

The real reason I dislike numbers is because I distrust them. And I distrust numbers primarily because they distrust everything else. Numbers flaunt their perceived self-importance. They are proud, pushy, demanding, even accusatory. Numbers cast suspicion. Unless they're included in whatever activity you care to name, they call men liars. They cry, "If you don't include us, then all your claims are false!"

The modern compulsion to quantify all truth claims has so pervaded our society that we scarcely even notice anymore. If the salesman states, "I spent the afternoon making phone calls," the first question that leaps to mind is, "How many did you make?" If the salesman sputters, "I…I…I don't know, I was more interested in the calls. I didn't keep track," then the eyebrows become raised, the looks become suspicious, and the general assumption is that the man has something to hide. He's lying, even if there is no evidence to support that accusation. If the pastor maintains, "I studied hard this week," the question becomes (say it with me), "How many hours did you study?" If the gardner claims, "It took awhile, but I finished the rose-bed," the conversation isn't complete without the mandatory, "How long did it take?"

So the following dictum is taken as axiomatic: If you can't quantify an action, said action didn't take place.

Numbers defend their hubris by calling in reinforcements. More numbers invade the field, attacking the flanks, justifying their own existence by a sort of circular reasoning that, in most areas of endeavor, would be easy to spot, but somehow goes unnoticed—probably because they are numbers, not words. 

"We're paying x amount of dollars, so we have a right to…"

"Don't you realize the problem extends to x amount of people, thus…"

"We only have x number of days to accomplish x number of tasks, so…"

Please note I'm not opposed to answering such questions. On the whole, inquires like these allow planning and coordinated action. It's only when integrity and value are questioned or assigned based upon numbers in a column that I take exception. 

For example, here are a few numbers from my trip to Africa:

miles traveled (by tomorrow night): in excess of 18,000

days spent traveling: 5

number of times preached: 3

number of professions of faith: 14

number of people joining the church: 3

number of pastor's taught: 20

number of sessions taught: 5

amount of money given to pastor's for transportation, food and (in some cases clothing) for themselves and their parishioners: in excess of $1000.


You see, all the numbers given above are essentially meaningless. I don't know the hearts of the people that came forward. I don't know what God has planned for the pastors that I taught. I have no idea of the spark that may have been placed within some nameless person due to something I said, long since forgotten. 

The true impact of this trip will never be known until we reach eternity, if then. Nevertheless, I'm convinced that God will used what happened here in ways beyond what I can even imagine. For it was clearly his will that I come. He empowered the teaching. It was his Word that drew people to himself.

Thus, while I can assemble numbers in a line, they are essentially meaningless. True meaning is found in the fact that God's will was obeyed, not only by me, but by those that gave sacrificially so that I could minister here and by those faithful in prayer while I was here. Such things can't be quantified. But their importance goes far beyond the numbers. 

Numbers lie. Value can't be quantified. But God can be trusted. And that's enough for me.