Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible." (Mark 10:27 NRSV)

Dr. Robert Schuller, who is known for his emphasis on positive thinking or possibility thinking as he calls it, tells about a man he once met on a flight to Los Angeles. The man was a mathematician named George Dantzig. Schuller made the observation to Dantzig that this was the first time it had occurred to him that there was a field of endeavor to which positive thinking didn't apply. Mathematical problems have only one right answer, so they can't be affected in any way by how a person thinks. Dantzig said Schuller was wrong.

Dantzig explained that during the Depression he had been a student of mathematics at the University of California-Berkeley. People were hungry and desperate for any job they could get. Dantzig, along with all his other classmates, desperately wanted the job of assistant teacher in the math department. Rumor had it that the person who scored the highest grade in a certain math course would get the job.

Dantzig worked unbelievably hard in this one class. He was determined to be the high scorer. But on the day of the final exam, George Dantzig overslept. He got to the exam late. The teacher handed Dantzig a piece of paper with eight math problems on it. Dantzig thought he could handle those eight problems just fine, but then he noticed two more problems on the board. He finished the eight problems in the time allotted, but asked the professor for extra time to finish the last two. The professor gave him an extension on his exam.

George Dantzig was convinced that he was as smart as anybody else in the class. And somebody in the class would figure out those two problems. He thought, why couldn't it be me? After all, the assistant teacher's job was riding on these two problems. So Dantzig labored over these problems all week, and finally solved them on Friday, just before his extension deadline.

A few days later, Dantzig was awakened by a pounding on his door. He opened it to find his professor in a state of high excitement. The professor asked George if he had come to class late on exam day. He admitted that he had. The professor explained that the exam had only consisted of the eight problems on the exam paper, which he had solved perfectly. The two problems on the board had been put up there for fun. They were classic mathematic problems that no mathematician had ever been able to solve. Even Einstein had been unable to crack them. The professor had explained at the beginning of class that these two problems had so far been unsolvable, but the students were welcome to play around with them. Because George Dantzig was late to class that day, he never heard that these problems were unsolvable. If he had known that Einstein couldn't solve them, he wouldn't have even attempted them himself. But because no one had told him that it couldn't be done, he had done it!

There's a lesson here. Be very careful when you say something can't be done.


God of all possibilities, help me to see the possibilities. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Ron Newhouse

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