Toward Wholeness Blog

“AND”: the importance of paradox to faith


Neat systems bother me.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s Calvinism or Arminianism, fundamentalism or liberalism, Catholicism or Protestantism.  All these constructs bother me for two reasons.  First, each system has its own inherent strengths and weaknesses.  Our role, isn’t to be fans of a system, but to be followers of Jesus, and this requires that at some level we be willing stand outside the systems and critique so that we can continue to be transformed.  Systems have a way of stagnating and eventually missing the point utterly. Just read church history.

Second, and this is the point of this post, systems often (though not always) seem to be an attempt to remove paradox from our faith declarations, which is supposed to make it more rational, more defendable, more believable.  This is rubbish, primarily because one can’t read the Bible and catch the grand themes without seeing that it’s as filled with paradox as yogurt is with bacteria.

Fully God and Fully Man – there are scriptures on both sides of this debate.  The early church though, was able to declare this paradox as orthodoxy.  Perhaps this is because they were living at a time in history when mystery was still acceptable, when everything wasn’t assessed by scientific method.

Living and Dying – “I die daily” says Paul, and of course Jesus says, “He who seeks to save his life shall lose it.  He who loses his life shall find it.”  The church embraced this paradox early too, perhaps because martrydom so quickly became a common experience.  These days in the west though, I’m suspicious that we give this a nod, but don’t wrestle fully with it’s implications.

Free and Chosen – I’m so tired of Calvinists telling me I’m chosen, but forgetting that I’m free.  Yes, I agree with my Calvinist friends:  I am chosen.  But Jesus stood up in the temple and said, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to me in drink…”  Did he mean any man, or was he lying?  He meant any man, because of course we read from Peter that “God is not willing that ANY should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”  If I land squarely on the side of God’s election, and ignore free will, I must conclude that God has destined some for destruction.  “Ah” you say.  “He did destine some for destruction.  Read Romans 9.”  I have.  Read II Peter.  Paradox.

Weak and Strong – “When I am weak, then I am strong” was how Paul put it.  Only weak?  You’re paralyzed into depression and inactivity.  Only strong?  You’re filled with arrogant presumption and living in denial of your humanity.

Believing and Doubting – “I believe.  Help my unbelief.”  If Jesus were a modernist, he would have tried to pin the man down.  “Which is it sick man – belief or unbelief?  Are you in or out?”  This isn’t license for having weak faith.  It’s acknowledging the reality that, right in the midst of our faith, doubt can also reside.  John the Baptist, having been imprisoned, tells his disciples to ask Jesus if He’s the Messiah, or if John missed something.  Jesus tells the disciples the answer AND says that poor doubting John is the greatest man that ever lived.  If you’ve no room for doubt, no more questions, I fear you’ve stopped growing.  If you’ve no room for faith, nothing but questions, you’re not reading this anyway.

Rational and Mysterious – Yes there’s evidence for all this.  There’s history.  There are martyrs.  There are documents.  But come on:  the sun stood still.  Dead bodies were reconstituted, and all of them will be some day.  There’s a spirit world, unseen, affecting lives.  And none of this can be proven by the scientific method.  Reduce the faith to a set of provable propositions, and you’ve stripped it of not only it’s mystery, but it’s power.  Make it nothing but mystery, and you’ve stripped it of it’s knowability.

I have at least five more, but don’t want to bore you.  Feel free to share some other paradoxes in the comment section, and let me know your thoughts.  I want to hear your critiques – and I don’t want to hear them.

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