Being married to a math teacher gives me many opportunities to think about all the things that they taught in school that never quite stuck to the flypaper of my brain. There are some things that took hold – English and social studies, science and history were all favorites. I even remember a few things from the home economics class I took my senior year. But math never found a friend inside my brain. (Don’t worry, your pastor is fully competent to do the math necessary to shepherd a church.) Math teachers please do not read the following sentence as what I am about to say will cause you great stress. I’ve never had to use the Pythagorean Theorem in the conjugation of a Greek verb, nor have I had to use π past 3.14 to figure out how to start a new Sunday School class.
There is one math function that I have learned to pay more attention to as I have grown, the least common denominator (LCD). In math, the LCD is the smallest multiple that two fractions have in common. You have to find the least common denominator to easily perform mathematical operations with fractions.
In life, the least common denominator is a little different. We often use that term to describe the most basic characteristic that a group has in common. I know, that’s not popular today in our highly individualized culture. No one wants to be lumped into a group because everybody is different. After a little while, those statements begin to sound like the teacher on Charlie Brown.
It might be easy to figure out the LCD for Southern Baptists or Blue Dog Democrats or animal rights activists, but what about the human race? Could it be that there is a LCD for humanity?
The Bible gives a generic LCD in Romans 3:23 – “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Without a lot of thinking, we have defined humanity by something that we all have in common – the reality of sin. But sin is very diverse. We are professional sinners, having perfected the art of sin. We have sins of omission and sins of commission. We have sins hidden in our thoughts, heard through our words, felt through our actions, and discerned through our motives. Surely the commonality between the pervert and the thief stops in the generic definition of their sinful condition.
The end of Daniel 4 reveals to us the most basic element of the human condition. Some theologians have defined this as the “root sin,” the sin from which all others originate. Let me suggest that the LCD of the human plight is a condition known as pride. Pride is the sin that moves the husband into the arms of another woman and moves the embezzler into the books of his business. Pride is the condition that compels a king to boast about his greatness and drives a self-righteous religious man to boast about his piety. It is no coincidence that pride is the sin that drove Lucifer to covet the throne of God, resulting in his expulsion from glory.
At the end of Daniel 4, a beautiful thing happened – Nebuchadnezzar was emptied of his pride. It took a lot to get him to that point. It took dreams and visions, miraculous redemptions, and seven-years in an insane condition, but Nebuchadnezzar found the only answer to the LCD of humanity – repenting from sin and turning to God.
Today, the answer remains the same, though revealed even more clearly to us through the cross. We are all prideful people, every one of us. The next time you sin, think of your pride. The only answer to pride is a relationship with Jesus Christ.
It’s not algebra, it’s faith,