A Life of Paradox
The Scripture is constantly calling us
to hold both-ands,
because it gets us outside the belief that we can have everything figured out and be a host unto ourselves. Holding Both-Ands means holding tension which means being dependent on God. It is one of the way that Scripture humbles us so that we can become open to God.
The Scriptures (not to mention Christianity itself) are filled with paradoxes. Consider this one:
Proverbs 26:4 tells us, “Don’t answer a fool according to his folly.” Then in the next verse, we are told, “Answer a fool according to his folly!”
Which is true? Well, context determines it, and that’s just the point: only wisdom can discern when to answer and when to be quiet. This requires navigating tension and an ability to read the context of a situation, which also means being dependent on the leading of the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Scripture invites us into maturity without saying so in so many words.
Many of us would simply like a how-to manual that would tell us exactly what to do in every situation (and many have tried to turn the Bible itself, which is full of stories of people figuring out how to navigate tension, with God’s help, into just such a manual!). It’s easier to give laws and rules than to ask people to navigate tension or become truly dependent on God, but that’s exactly what we get from Scripture, because God is out for real relationship.
Consider another paradox:
Jesus says that if you deny him, you will have no part with him (John 13:8), and yet Peter denies Jesus, and Jesus restores him (John 21)!
Jesus’ statements are true statements, but only in context do they paint the entire picture. We can’t understand them apart from understanding the whole truth of God’s restoring heart of grace revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. What we end up with is the reality that we actually need God Himself, and not just rules imported from the Bible or a series of platitudes or aphorisms, and certainly not certainty masquerading as faith. Real faith demands a humble posture of trust, not a rigid fear-driven mentality of “I have all the answers,” which is what we find so often in fundamentalism on either side, either conservative or liberal.
Scripture thus calls us into a posture of humility and trust, which proves to be at the heart of faith. When we can live in paradox and tension, we are freed to finally fix our focus on God, who is The Answer, even when the answers are not so clear.