The Paradoxical Truth

One feature of German theologians that attracts me so much is their love for, and indeed in many cases, reliance upon paradox. A paradox is fancy word for a statement that seems self-contradictory.

The first example that comes to my mind is Martin Luther’s statement: a Christian is the perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is the perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject of all, subject to all. Some may accuse Luther of babbling nonsense here (indeed they have accused him of worse), but we can see that these statements are both true and necessary for the life of each and every follower of Jesus.

We can see these paradoxes also in the Scriptures. Have you ever read Proverbs 26 and stopped at verses 4 and 5? Answer not a fool according to his folly…Answer a fool according to his folly. The writer, given words by God himself, is not babbling but stating a paradox. The truth is that sometimes you need to shut up a fool and sometimes you are a fool for doing just that. Paradox.

I think I am in good company, then, when I propose that there is another side to that little discussion on simplicity. Yes, there is a great simplicity to the truth we are given by God. No, we are not dealing with an easy God who allows us to plum his depths. God stoops down to make himself known but he will not be understood in his fullness. Mystery remains- and there is plenty to go around at that. How can God reveal himself and be hidden in mystery at the same time? If you are accusing me of babbling at least I am in good company, but let me explain a bit more.

Recently, I have been following a blog by a guy named Joel Miller (whose blog I would also recommend to you!). In the midst of looking around, I found a post with a similar name to my post on Tuesday. Naturally, I checked it out.

Well, much to my chagrin, Mr. Miller’s point seemed to be directly opposite mine. His opinion is that we look for simplicity in God because we want life to be easy. His point is that we crave “simplicity” because we are allowed to be lazy as soon we convince ourselves that we have mastered this whole “God thing” (ok, that’s my paraphrase, he’s a much better writer than I am!). My initial reaction was to disagree. After all, I had just spent eleven hundred words making the case that simple, humble words are the ones that drive us to the heart of God. How could we both be right?

Then I remembered something Steinbeck’s Rev. Casy said to a man struggling with doubt. In the most colorful of language he said:

Them people that’s sure about ever’thing an’ ain’t got no sin- well, with that kind of son-of-a-bitch, if I was God I’d kick their ass right outa heaven! I couldn’ stand ‘em!

It really is arrogant to think we “get it”, that in simple or complicated language we could ever get down to the bottom of the heart of God. The day we wake up sure about the world, sure of our lives, sure of those around us, sure of the veracity of the bible, sure of our own hearts- that is the day we have freed ourselves from even the rule of God. We have become autonomous, answering only to ourselves. Now that is a frightening and awful place to be, right?

Do you remember the story of the tower of Babel? That was when the leaders of the world got together in a council that would make the United Nations blush with shame and decided they would reach out to God. Now, before you take the position of the biblical scholar, just consider for one minute how noble this task would sound. Can you imagine if the U.S. government got together with Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea, China, and Russia (just for old times’ sake) and decided to stop fighting, hold hands and try to make contact with God? Would there not be much rejoicing and singing of John Lennon songs?

The plan of our ancestors was to build a gigantic tower (hence the name of the story) that was big enough to pierce the heavens and ascend to God, whoever he or she was up there. Now, give them a break, this is thousands of years before Sputnik, how could they know about atmospheres or the heat of the sun that would surely incinerate them as they reached the end of physical reality?

Do you remember what happened? God was not pleased. He came down and confused the language. It is not every day that God comes down from heaven and curses men with unattainable rules of grammar, syntax, and German-to-English dictionaries, but that is exactly what he did. And why? What is so wrong with trying to know God? What is wrong with throwing our whole selves into the pursuit of contacting God? That is the type of thing that guarantees a Nobel Peace prize these days.

The issue is simply that God would not be found in relationship from the ground-up. Man does not attain to God through his noble pursuits. Can you see the flat-out arrogance of a culture who would try and reach out to God through its great accomplishments? Can God actually be impressed by the work of man?

The people thought that God could be reached and impressed as easily, as simply as their brothers. What an arrogant thought- that God, who rules and reigns in mystery, could possibly be known on human terms!

But where were we? Oh yes, paradox. There is one more paradox we should mention. Jesus is both fully man and fully God. The unknowable, unattainable, unfathomable God has made himself known. In Christ, we have been given all we need for life and godliness, if Peter was telling us the truth. In Christ, we have been given all the comfort of the God of comfort, if Paul was telling the truth.

It is in this suffering, yet joyful servant that we have come to know the unknowable God. It is with this homeless king that we have been invited to reign forever. It is in this Christ who died that we find life. It is in the God who is not ashamed to be called brother to all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve are made new.

Of this great paradox, Bonhoeffer wrote:

Faith means being held captive by the sight of Jesus Christ, no longer seeing anything but him, being wrested from my imprisonment in my own self, being set free by Jesus Christ.

In simple wonder we fix our eyes again on Jesus Christ, who has come down to convince us that God is for us.

One response to “The Paradoxical Truth”

  1. So, I found this blog in my search for the paradoxical times we live in, enjoyed the first part and the last but the in-between I found…? Well I just don’t know. I enjoyed it all, I’m just trying to prove I didn’t forget the middle part of your writing which would mean I could be lost altogether. (my attempt at sarcasm)

    We’re living in a paradoxical time, and Biblical reference to the acceptance of paradox is more important now than at any point in my life.

    C.G. Jung from 1955
    “… The paradox… reflects a higher level of intellect and, by not forcibly representing the unknowable as known, gives a more faithful picture of the real state of affairs….”

    So much of what is happening today can be looked at as both right and wrong, I don’t refer to the things that only seem to be emplaced as control mechanisms designed to categorize individual humans. In the broader sense we’re at odds with each other because of our lack of understanding of the acceptance of paradox.

    Like a dog sees in black and white the human brain finds it difficult to see the value of paradox because we naturally need to pick sides.

    The part about Genesis 11-1-9 although I didn’t see a paradoxical connection is still very important to the human condition now as it was then.

    3And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar.

    The tower could not reach God if made of stone, it would from a foundational standpoint require too much mortar and could never reach the clouds.

    4Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”

    Important here is “let us build ourselves” we are the bricks, we had become the same, “Bricks” which would be the only way we could build such a structure because stones don’t fit together like the sameness of brick.

    “Otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”

    Fear of facing the world as an individual, alone even with faith is still a daunting task for even the most faithful, most people fear the idea of being alone an outcast, when it’s easier to get lost in the group/collective.

    5The LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. 6And the LORD said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do;

    Important here is “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language;” this reminds me of a quote by Seneca “one man is a mob and a mob is one man.” I believe God’s anger was our sameness, he created individual stones only to find we’d become bricks.

    Should we believe that God views his work with a collective eye, or does he view us as individual brush strokes on a canvas, our do we not each of our own accord have an individual relationship with him within his site? Me I’m a stone with rough and soft edges just as God made me, God has left it up to me to find and perfect myself as an individual within the stone in order to find my own place and own way outside the collective group.

    God separated us because he wants us to find ourselves within the confines of our individually, when people sought or were forced by Nimrod to become the same (bricks) he acted to save us from ourselves.

    Just my thoughts, again enjoyed yours and hope to read more.

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