“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Paradoxes of Christianity

What is Christianity? A set of doctrines or truth claims? A story? A description of reality? Perhaps all of the above. Whatever language we use to describe the Christian faith, its very essence is paradoxical.

“As dying, and behold, we live...as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich, as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” – Paul
I must be careful to define what I mean by “paradox,” or else the language I use will be ambiguous, and will not give the reader an accurate understanding of my thoughts. By “paradox” I do not mean a logical contradiction. A paradox is a true and logically consistent proposition or statement that establishes a connection or relationship between starkly contrasting ideas or objects (and may thus seem to be inconsistent or internally contradictory, but is in fact true). In this new dynamic relation, there is contrast and tension: paradox emerges. For example, “one must die in order to live” (a sequential or causal connection is established between death and life, two opposing ideas). Or “Jesus Christ is both God and a man” (in this case, a connection of identity is made between God and man, two seemingly mutually exclusive categories).1
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.”
– Jesus
When I say that Christianity is paradoxical in essence (and so also in ways is the very fabric of reality), then, I mean that there is in Christianity a deeply-embedded theme of paradoxes, a beautiful theme that is ultimately derived from a beauty in the nature of God himself, a theme in the Story that reflects the Author, or in the Music that reveals the Composer.

In the next several blog posts, I will attempt to trace this theme throughout Scripture2 and identify instances of paradox (present in both the Old and New Testaments) in key Christian doctrines, the words and actions of Jesus, the central event of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and especially in the Christian life, that is, the way of life taught by Jesus and his followers, as recorded in the New Testament. I will also share some thoughts on what may be paradoxical elements in the larger Story of Christianity, and even in the very nature of reality, but these ideas will be more speculative and less grounded in Scripture…

1One might, alternatively, formulate some paradoxes as pairs of contrasting, seemingly contradictory truths. For example, “Jesus Christ is God” and “Jesus Christ is a man.” This is similar to Niels Bohr’s principle of complementarity, which states that a particle can have seemingly contradictory properties (we, however, cannot observe both properties at once). Not all paradoxes can be stated this way, though.

2Of course, I do not presume to have identified all or even most instances of paradox that can be found. The treasures of God’s word are valuable beyond price, but are often somewhat hidden and somewhat mysterious. I am merely gathering jewels from the surface of a vast and deep cavern of riches.

1 comment:

  1. Just wanted to thank you for your thought provoking blog posts about the paradoxes of Christian faith. Using them as a starting point, I have put together some interesting sermons for our church.. Keep up the good thinking and God bless!