A Brain-Teaser with a Consoling Twist

Posted January 17, 2012

John H. Hampsch, cmf

Here’s a head-scratcher for you.

Imagine the earth as a smooth, non-mountainous ball, girded by a metal band at the equator. Now imagine enlarging that 25,000-mile band by, let us say, for example, an extra 50 feet, thus loosening it all around. Guess how much space would be left between that band and the earth at any given point. Could you slip your finger under it, or crawl under it or stand or walk under it? The answer? You could walk under it, since the enlarged band would then be about eight feet above the surface—get this—at every point around the globe.

But wait. If the band tightly encircled not the earth, but the moon, or a basketball or a cantaloupe, that band, when expanded by the same amount, 50 feet, would have exactly the same eight-foot separation as with the earth.

The same phenomenon can be considered from another point of view. Thus, amazingly, adding only 50 feet of fencing around any size circular field, even many miles wide, would add room for an 8-foot-wide path all the way around it. Mathematically, the circumference is irrelevant to the radial increase.

Parallel to this remarkable “Euclidean mathematical constant,” there’s an even more remarkable “spiritual constant.” It’s seen in the constancy of God’s loving mercy—in its availability to every sinner (that’s all of us!), regardless of each person’s individual “circumference of sin”—that is, their accumulated guilt.

There are many types of sinners, with many types of “sin circumference.” They range from terrorists, like Saul before he became St. Paul, to immoral profligates, like St. Augustine, to saintly souls like Mother Teresa, whose peccadilloes probably never exceeded that of momentary impatience.

Whether your “sin circumference” is great or small, God’s awesome mercy is equally and constantly available to you. Both the dissolute prodigal son and his faithful but resentful brother experienced their Father’s love (Luke 15:31). Nothing is more constant than God’s love focused on each of us sinners on this sin-pocked planet. And nothing is more constant than his forgiveness and mercy for absolutely every sinner who turns to him in humble repentance. “Whoever confesses and renounces sin finds mercy,” says Proverbs 28:13.

The divine constancy of the Lord’s merciful love can make any person break through the encircling bonds of sin and expand their love of God until it melts into sincere repentance. David’s love of God did that: “Have mercy on me, as you always do to those who love your name” (Ps. 119:132). The unbinding and expanding by repentance is nothing more or less than a heartfelt regret at having offended the gentle Savior who, while hating sin itself, loves, beyond all measure, every sinner, great or small. His limitless, universal, extravagant and unwavering love for each of us adds new dimensions to the word “constant,” for “his compassions never fail. They are new every morning” (Lam. 3:22-23).

With that assurance, it’s inane to neglect the loving invitation of God’s word in Hebrews 4:16: “Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy, and find grace to help us in our time of need.”  ++