Breaking Statistics

I have a confession to make. I tend to put a lot of stock in statistics. I think it started in high school when I started applying to colleges. I had never really thought much about statistics before. They had never come up before. But college admissions statistics hit hard.

Some of the places I applied had admission numbers lower than 10%. That felt almost impossible. And then when you factored in the fact that those schools are trying to get a balanced entering class from all over the nation, those numbers decrease. And I bought it. I bought every decimal point and every fraction.

Because here’s the thing about statistics: once you start believing them (even for a second), you start seeing yourself in the other part of the statistic. In my case, I began to see myself in the 90% that didn’t get into the universities I wanted. This was because there are a lot of really talented, awesome, intelligent people out there. And it seemed ludicrous to suggest that I could ever be in the top 10% of them. And maybe because of that line of thinking, or, more likely, because the world sometimes does the whole statistic thing the way you expect it to, I didn’t get in to any of those statistically-challenging universities.

And so now I put a lot of stock in statistics.

My friend was talking to me the other day about this problem he had with something that Jesus once said. It comes in Matthew 22:14. He says, “For many are invited but few are chosen.” I understand that there is a whole discussion we can have here, depending on our individual theologies, about what this verse means. A lot of people have interpreted it a lot of different ways. But when I was explaining to my friend why I didn’t find this verse problematic, I realized something. This verse is about statistics.

Statistics are about how things are or have been. They don’t control the future. And so when Jesus says that many are invited but few are chosen, maybe he’s not saying that he’s picked those people already. Maybe he’s just saying that it’s tough. It’s tough to apply to prestigious colleges. It’s tough to graduate from high school if you are kid growing up in the inner city. It’s tough to follow God. And that’s all that we should believe of the statistics. Because knowing something is tough motivates us. But trying to divide the world into 10% and 90% gets complicated and stupid.

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