According to the Microsoft Encarta College Dictionary, a paradox is “Something absurd or contradictory, but in fact…is true.” So, a paradox is an apparent contradiction which conceals a deep truth.
God could be called the Paradoxical One! Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
I have noticed several paradoxes of our time in history. They are:
- We buy more, but enjoy it less;
- We have more conveniences, but less time;
- We have more knowledge, but less common sense;
- We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values;
- We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often;
- We have learned how to make a living, but not a life;
- We’ve added years to our life, but not life to our years;
- We’ve conquered outer space, but not inner space;
- We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul.
These are definitely the days of:
- Tall men and short character;
- Steep profits and shallow relationships.
- World peace, but domestic warfare;
- More leisure, but less fun;
- More kinds of food, but less nutrition.
- Two incomes, but more divorce;
- Fancier houses, but broken homes.
Even in the Bible we find many paradoxes:
- We can see unseen things (II Cor. 4:18).
- We can conquer by yielding (Rom. 6:18).
- We can find rest under a yoke (Mt. 11:28-30).
- We can rule by serving (Mk. 10:43).
- We can become greater by becoming lesser (Luke 9:48).
- We can become wise by being fools for Christ’s sake (I Cor. 1:20-21.
- We can be made free by becoming Christ’s bondservants (Rom. 6:17-20; 8:2).
- We can possess everything by having nothing (II Cor. 6:9-10).
- We can be made strong by being weak (II Cor. 12:10.
- We can triumph by defeat (II Cor. 12:7-9).
- We can find victory by glorying in our infirmities and weaknesses (II Cor. 12:5).
- And the greatest paradox of all, we live by dying (Jn. 12:24-25; II Cor. 4:10-11).
The ways of the world are different than the ways of Jesus Christ. The principles of the kingdom are counterintuitive to the values of a humanist philosophy. Atheists have lobbied to take “In God We Trust” off US currencies and “Under God” from the “Pledge of Allegiance.” We have taken God out of our schools and replaced Him with guns and violence. Yet, when a catastrophe strikes, our nation prays to God for deliverance. God has become a god of convenience rather than the Sovereign God.
No matter what we say or do, God is still God and ultimately His will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven. We can join Him and make a difference, or rebel against Him and endure the consequences. I say we must believe God and follow Him, even though it goes against the grain of the world’s thinking. It makes perfect sense, and in the end, God will have the final say.
Spiritual growth is the process by which we seek to know and to be known by the Living God. It is a universal process with unique consequences: It will inevitably move us into the world of paradox. We must learn how to dance with paradox as we strive for spiritual intimacy. We can’t experience spiritual growth without it.
A careful look at the Bible will reveal how much of our faith is paradoxical, and how Jesus emerges as the chief architect of this paradoxical faith.
- The Kingdom of God is something great, and yet it is compared to a tiny mustard seed.
- The Kingdom is something pure, yet it is compared to a woman who, in Gospel times, was considered impure.
- The Kingdom is a place where the poor are blessed; the first are last; in weakness people are made strong; the humble are exalted, and the proud are humbled.
During my own 45-year spiritual journey, four major paradoxes have emerged. Each one is unique, and has helped me to make sense or find peace in a world that makes no sense, in times that breed turmoil.
First is the paradox of spiritual growth. The more you grow spiritually, the further from spiritual perfection you realize you are. This is why humility is crucial. Religious people are prone to “spiritual haughtiness,” ignoring this paradox.
Second is the paradox of spiritual enlightenment. The more enlightened you become as an adult, the more childlike will be your wisdom. Jesus said that we must become like children to enter the Kingdom of heaven. Kids trust what they don’t understand.
The third paradox is the paradox of knowing and mystery. If you are to know the Living God, you must be comfortable with mystery. There will always be mystery beyond our knowledge. We must learn to be comfortable in the tension between affirming our faith in one breath, and asking questions about our life and faith in the next. We must accept our limitations and admit with the Apostle Paul that in this life we do, indeed, “see through a glass darkly.” The more we come to know God, the more we will discover there is to know. So, mystery becomes an important part of our journey.
A fourth paradox is the paradox of love. The more love you want to experience, the more love you must give away. We all seek love and we all want to be loved. But love can only be ours if we give it to others. The more we give, the greater is the return. Trying to control or possess love is like trying to hold onto a laser beam. It cannot be done. Giving love away is difficult. Many would rather opt for power and control than to give and receive love. Henri Nouwen has said, “It seems easier to be God than to love God . . . to own life than to love life.” Love is a threat to power and control. Christians follow the One who gave and received love freely, rejecting the temptations of power. Jesus understood the paradox of love.
The Argentine Tango is the most difficult social dance to learn because of all the complicated steps involved. But, the most difficult dance over all is dancing with paradox! Dancing with paradox is a spiritual discipline that is difficult to learn.
Jesus’ teachings can startle you when they seem to be contradictory. The paradoxes of Jesus bring you face-to-face with the fact that you cannot know all the answers about the questions of life– but you can know the One who designed it. And that will give you peace in the midst of paradox.
Enjoy the dance!