Thursday, July 31, 2014

Inherently Paradoxical

            Huh?  What in the world is that?  Why do I have such a weird title for a blog post?  What do I hope to accomplish with such an egg-headed phrase?  Over a hundred and fifty years ago the great Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, described true Christianity as “inherently paradoxical.”  In the midst of a thoroughly scientific age in which having answers for everything through identification and classification ruled the day, Kierkegaard pushed back, recognizing and upholding the great mystery of the Christian faith.  Kierkegaard pointed out that we do not have the answers to everything revealed to us, but, instead, we must hold to the tension of what seem like competing realities.  A paradox is a statement that seems self-contradictory or illogical, but in reality expresses a truth.



            For example, the God whom Christians serve is One God in Three Persons: Father, Son, and Spirit.  This seems absurd; it is unexplainable.  But we must hold the tension of the truth that God is both One and Three at the same time all the time.  In addition, Jesus Christ is fully human and fully God at the same time all the time.  It appears foolish.  When Kierkegaard said Christianity is “inherently paradoxical” he meant that that it defies and transcends the scientific method; Christianity may seem to be full of ridiculous religious mumbo-jumbo, but is none-the-less truth.  Christianity is like standing in the middle of a train track with two rails on each side.  Each is there.  Each is real.  They never touch.  We look ahead and see that they much touch somehow since it appears they come together.  But the more we walk the more we never find the touching point.  So it is with Christianity.  The more we bend to rationalistic scientism the more frustrated we will become because we never get to explain the unexplainable; it never seems to touch or to make a lot of rational sense.  Instead, we hold the tension of paradox.

            So, what does this have to do with church ministry and the Christian life?  Oftentimes we want to embrace one truth while denying the other in order for things to make sense to us.  To embrace Christ’s humanity, but downplay his deity is the ancient heresy of Arianism; to emphasize Christ’s deity and toss the humanity aside as only appearing a man is equally heretical position of Docetism.  Both were soundly condemned by Church Councils as misguided attempts to reconcile the inherently paradoxical nature of Christian belief about Jesus.  We serve a risen Savior who was just like us but did not sin; a Champion who was God incarnate.  To downplay either truth is to run the train off the tracks and crash our faith.

            God planned for our deliverance from sin, death, and hell through predestination and gracious call to salvation.  However, we still have a human responsibility to turn from sin and believe the good news of forgiveness in Christ.  God elects us and chooses us; we choose God.  Which is true?  Both are equally true at the same time all the time.

            If we only emphasize God’s sovereignty and providence and ignore human responsibility, we might not pray, serve, or evangelize believing that our efforts do not really matter since God will do whatever God will do.  On the other hand, we might put all our eggs in the human responsibility basket to the point of also never really praying but relying on our own ingenuity, putting pressure on ourselves to serve and work and manipulate others to live the Christian life out of a misguided belief of eschewing the inherently paradoxical nature of our faith.  The truth is:  the way up is down; to save our lives we must give them up; to be great is to be a servant.


            We are to rely fully and completely on our triune God for everything:  salvation; living the Christian life; and, serving in the church.  We are also not to be passive but active in taking charge of our Christian lives and loving God and others responsibly with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  If we do not hold all this truth together in tension we will be frustrated and have endless angst and worry within ourselves.  We do not have to understand everything about the Bible and Christianity in order to be a Christian and serve in Christ’s Church.  In fact, there is so much mystery to the faith that we must take the time to simply stand and gape in wonder at the God who is so big that we are unable to comprehend him and his ways.  So, we need to learn to enjoy this awesome God and embrace the paradox of divine sovereignty and human responsibility so that we may worship, fellowship, and serve the church and the world.  In doing so we are witnesses to a faith that transcends understanding and allows us to freely operate within our churches, our families, and our lives.  May it be so to the glory of God.

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