Language of Arithmetic: Subtraction

Mathematical symbols and formulas are ways of expressing relationships in the world. They serve to proffer solutions to human situations.

Curriculum January 11, 2021

Mathematical symbols and formulas are ways of expressing relationships in the world. The simple basic arithmetic logics of the elementary branch of mathematics that deals with division, addition, subtraction and multiplication provide powerful insights to human situations and relationships. Here we examine the branch of subtraction:


Subtraction is expressed as: subtract 3 from 5, minus 6 from 13, take away 2 from 7, remove 1 from 9.

Life is a journey with luggage, some luggage is bigger than others, and some stands on its own while some is embedded in others.

The first equation, subtract 3 from 5 can apply in two ways.  First, in the case of big luggage, it would be obvious that one can effectively handle two out of the five and then make a greater success than carrying the five at once.  Put differently, applying wisdom to some concerns and praying to God for guidance can help us see that most of the things we are killing ourselves for are not relevant or very important for life’s accomplishments. Hence, reducing or subtracting such will be wisdom.

The second order to the above has to do with smaller luggage embedded in big ones. A critical analysis of some of the content of these big luggage with smaller ones embedded in them can reveal man’s selfish quest which can only be cured by selfless act of subtracting what one does not actually need and focusing attention on the real needs, which invariably, makes one more productive in all arears of life and in turn, makes ones journey easier. 

The second formula reads, minus 6 from 13. An understanding of the principle of minus has a power to transform. The word “minus” could mean in different contexts: without negative, below a designated scale, defect, or deficiency, drawback, shortcoming, etc.

This principle, from the possible meanings, teaches that:

  1. One can do without most luggage they carry, and as such, can make the best of life’s journey by going without it.
  2. There is a need to minus the negative from the positive luggage.
  3. Man’s wants are insatiable and this leads to a quest to accumulate more and more which shows defects.

This means that man’s nature can make him his own enemy of progress. Accumulating much in life’s giving does not account for a successful life. Proverbs talks about the vanity of life where one acquires and acquires and at the end does not know who will squander them.  In the same way, it has become very obvious that life’s achievements do not generate happiness. Rather, they add sorrows and troubles.  

The question here is “why acquire more to end up in sorrows and troubles?” Most of the things we have acquired in life need to be subtracted from our luggage for a successful onward journey. Being contented with some of the things we have and letting others have the rest, helps to make our luggage lighter, makes us more productive and gives us more time to enjoy the short life time that we have. There is a need to review one’s life scale so as to cut down to the needed and not wanted.

The principle of “take away 2 from 7” teaches an intentional act of deprivation or impoverishment even in the face of plenty in order to keep on track.  Paul the Apostle, alluded to this in the analogy between the athlete and the Christian in the book of Romans.  For the athlete does not run and win a race with all kinds of things but takes what is necessary to help him succeeded in the race; thus, even to the point of removing his/her expensive coverings or wear (1 Corinthians 10:23-24).  For a better kingdom preparation, just as our Master and Saviour did, we cannot but deprive ourselves of so many things of this world.

What’s more, we have much claims to rights, privileges and passions and these things, if weighed carefully, have no eternal values. But unfortunately, we spend the better part of our lives fighting and demanding for them.  I wonder what life’s claims anyone will make in the face of COVID-19.  What lessons of “take away” can be learnt from the experiences of this COVID-19?  God’s children need to divest, dispossess or strip themselves of the quest for rights, privileges, and passions. How many of these rights, privileges and passions go with one to the grave?  Many are seeking to have all the rights and privileges even to the detriment of the mission the church is given.  Passions have replaced the influence of the Holy Spirit.  There is a need to take away, divest, dispossess, strip, these things from the way of the Lord that He may come in and sup with us and we with Him.

The principle of take away embedded in reduction, is very relevant in our today’s world where all that matters to everyone is expansion, increase, promotion, elevation and so on which leads to selfishness, avarice and greed.  The concept of reduction as one of the principles of take away is very essential for every Christian based on the fact that we are pilgrims, just passing through a land that is not our home. 

The second idea in take away is to diminish.  To diminish means to make smaller and thus gives the idea of right kind of luggage needed for an upward journey.  The more the load, the more difficult it becomes to run or fly especially on the face of danger. The question that one needs to ask oneself in face of all the increase and expansion and promotion is “How many of these can help me run successfully the race before me?  How much of what I acquire for myself will be able to pass through the heavenly gate?  When the right answers fill the mind, the diminishing part of take away holds sway.

The principle of take away can also imply to deprive.  Deprive means to deny or impoverish.  This principle best describes the Man, Jesus, who deprived Himself of all His Glory and power, that humans may be enriched.  This is an essential character trait for those who will make it to heaven.

How many luggage are you carrying? How can we teach our students to apply these concepts to their own lives?


Ochulor Nwaugo

Dr. Nwaugo is a lecturer at the Department of Languages and Literary Studies at Babcock University, Ogun State, Nigeria.

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