Numbers Declare God's Glory: A Conversation with Irene Sun


J.C. Ryle, the 17th Century Anglican bishop, writes this in his book, The Duties of Parents: “You cannot make your children love the Bible, I allow. None but the Holy Spirit can give us a heart to delight in the Word. But you can make your children acquainted with the Bible; and be sure that they cannot be acquainted with that blessed book too soon, or too well.”

Irene Sun's God Counts: Numbers in His Word and His World embodies the wisdom of Ryle's words. At its core, Sun's book is a counting primer—one that helps parents to point their children to God. Her simple picture book affirms the wise sentiment above: Children cannot be acquainted with Scripture too soon, or too well. And even numbers can be useful to us in that work.

Please join me as I chat with author, Irene Sun. I pray that you are encouraged by her wisdom.

Nana Dolce: Irene, thank you so much for your time today. I’m excited to know you better. Would you mind sharing a bit about yourself? Who are you? Where do you live? What do you do? Who do you love?

Irene Sun: Thank you, Nana. I was born on an island in Malaysia, surrounded by mountains and the Pacific Ocean. With my preacher husband Hans, we are in a season of teaching and raising our four boys at home. I also teach with TGC Women’s Training Network. I am very excited about equipping my sisters in the Lord with the tools to study God’s word.

ND: Thank you! Using a counting primer to teach Scripture suggests that very young children can learn the Bible. Irene, what would you say is the “right” time or age to begin teaching the Bible to children?

IS: When is the right time to feed our children? Every child is born hungry. We mothers know the urgency in our baby’s cry for milk. God’s word is food for our souls. Apart from God’s word, we die. When we teach our children theology, we are feeding their souls the milk and honey that is his word. He invites us to come—with our little babies—and feast at his table.

ND: Indeed! And we see that in your book. God Counts takes readers from Genesis to Revelation, counting numbers 1 to 12, and then infinity. You write this concerning Jesus: “Jesus is infinite. But Jesus did not think about his greatness. He became a baby in Mary's womb, a small and narrow place for the maker of stars.” Not many of us would connect the word “infinity” in a counting book to Christ's greatness and humility. How do you personally develop your heart and eyes to make such connections to Christ?

IS: The Lord gave me a son who loves numbers. All glory be to the Lord! He taught me—and is still teaching me—to see the world through my children’s eyes.

When this particular son was two, I heard his voice exclaiming in the backseat of the car “Numbers! Numbers are everywhere!” We were breathing and swimming in numbers in our home: books, toys, magnets, the legos were made into numbers, my husband even carved numbers out of wood. This child would not sit in my lap to read a book unless it was about numbers. At first, I was so discouraged. Later on, I realized that God’s word was full of numbers. He was right: Numbers were everywhere, even in God’s word.

Numbers magnify the Lord, the way a telescope magnifies the great stars. Numbers bring God closer to my children’s eyes. In fact, numbers capture the greatness of God in a way that stories do not. Mary held the God of infinity in her womb! Little was never so big; and big was never so little. Jesus is all at once majestic and lowly, marvelous and meek. He is the Lion and the Lamb.

NA: My next question flows from the preceding. If something as elementary as counting numbers can point us to God, then certainly the ultimate end of our children's education is their knowledge of God. Would you agree? If so, how can we train our children to look for God in any and every subject they encounter?

IS: I completely agree! Our home is a school. The universe is our classroom. Every parent is a “homeschool parent” regardless of how we choose to formally educate our children. We are all called to be our children’s first teachers. My task is to point my children to God’s word and God’s world, and say “Behold, our God!”

I’m teaching my one-year-old to eat solid food right now. Often, I would take a bite and say “Yum!” Teaching theology is basically saying to our children, “taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8). When the children are young, we need soft food, smashed food, and food cut up into bite-size pieces.  Parents need to be all the more diligent when preparing spiritual food. Even manna from heaven needed to be gathered early in the morning. With prayer and faith, we hope that the children will develop a taste and a love for God’s truth.

ND: Moses admonishes God’s people in Deuteronomy 6:5-7 to love their God and to show that love through the diligent and regular teaching of their children within the routines of life. I think that God Counts shows us an example of this kind of teaching. Irene, how might everyday life together (teaching a preschooler to count, helping siblings to share, cooking together as a family) become occasions for worship?

IS: In scripture, worship often happens on our knees. With bent knees and our faces to the ground, we live every second of every hour in dependence on God. O how we need his mercy and grace! The longer I have been a parent, the more I realize how much I need his help.  These days, I cry out to the Lord to help me even as I persevere with the laundry and dishes! I cannot think of one thing I do where I don’t need the Lord’s forgiveness, strength, and joy.

We teach our children to be strong, brave, and kind. We must also teach them how to repent and ask for mercy and grace. Acknowledging our frailty and brokenness before the Lord is the beginning of true worship. We come to the Fount of every blessing. Courage and meekness flows most generously from a broken and contrite heart.

ND: You write this in the book: “God counts every fish in the sea, every star in the sky. God counts every hair on your head, every tear you cry...God counts all your days until you see him face to face. God created numbers to declare his glory.” I understand this from your words: The act of counting is image bearing—it mirrors the God who counts. Is that right? If so, how might parents paint this glorious view for their children as they learn their numbers and words (after all, God speaks too!)?  

IS: Nana, I love how you said “the act of counting is image bearing.” I never thought about counting that way. Thank you for this insight, and I believe you are absolutely right!

We bear God’s image when we count, just as Adam bears God’s image when he names the animals. The act of naming—constructing words and assigning them to various creatures—sets Adam apart from the animals. Adam and Eve are called to bear God’s image by ruling over his creation. We see that when Adam names the woman, he speaks in congruence with God’s speaking in his act of creation. The act of counting—the communication of knowledge about God’s creation—is an exercise of our dominion, in accordance to God’s revelation. Both acts require a creative imagination, reflecting God himself.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, explains that God’s eternal power and divine nature is revealed by his creation. Through the visible things that are made, we are able to see the invisible attributes of God, namely his power and deity (Romans 1:20). Numbers are part of God’s creation, “the things that have been made.” Galileo once said that “Mathematics is the language in which God has written the universe.”

We are God’s witnesses. Teaching numbers and reading picture books will not save our children. But we can point to creation and teach our children to behold God’s power and divine nature. We can nurture in our children a sense of wonder before God’s beauty, goodness, and truth as we behold the Lord in his Word and his world.  

ND:  Irene, thank you for your time and for your encouraging work and wise words! As we leave, can I ask you how God has used this book as a means of sanctification in your own heart? And what is your prayer for families, teachers, and kids as they read it?

IS: You have been such an encouragement to me, Nana! Your questions are deep and insightful. You have given me nuggets of truths and I am grateful. Thank you for faithfully reflecting our Father’s wisdom and goodness.

The Lord has taught me to trust him throughout the writing of this book. As the publisher was making the book, the Lord was making me holy!  At every stage, we faced circumstances that tossed me before God’s feet: Do you trust me? Will you obey me and remain in my love?

In my first few drafts, Eleven “tells us sometimes sad things happen” and goes on to tell the story about how Judah ran away. But as you can see, in the final draft, Eleven tells us God forgives sin. Because, you see, Judah was not the only one who ran away. Eleven other disciples also ran away. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all betrayed Jesus. But God—he forgives us when we repent before him. Eleven tells us there is no end to his mercy.

My prayer is that the Lord would give light to our darkened eyes. I pray that we might clearly perceive God’s eternal power and divine nature in his world (Romans 1:20). I pray that parents and children everywhere would honor and give thanks to God (Romans 1:21), and rejoice that he created numbers for his glory and for our pleasure.

Irene Sun was born in Malaysia and is the author of the picture book God Counts: Numbers in His Word and His World. She studied liturgy and literature at Yale University (MAR) and the Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (ThM). She records her favorite prayers on her blog by the waters.