Wednesday, February 24, 2010

If I may be deliberately oversimple for a moment...

Erring on the side of simplicity is not exactly my trademark, but if I may deliberately oversimplify for a moment: Christianity is, at its core, the faithful affirmation of the paradoxical. This is clearest in Christianity's two most critical dogmas. The Christian must affirm that:

  • God is one, and God is three.
  • Jesus was fully human, and Jesus was fully divine.
Those dogmas not only do not make sense, they seem to be deliberately contradictory. And why not? The closer one looks at Christianity, the more it becomes obvious that the faith revels in contradiction, takes supernal delight in constant paradox.

God makes exceedingly great demands on His followers. After all, "small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." Not everyone who says "Lord, Lord" makes the cut. For some people, God demands truly supernatural feats, like passing large even-toed ungulates through pinholes. He tells me that if I am struck, I am not allowed to strike back. He tells me that if my spouse mistreats me, neglects me, and rejects me that I am not allowed to break the bonds of marriage and seek another spouse. He tells me that I cannot indulge the sexual urges He has embedded in me. He tells me that I no longer have any claim to things that I "own," but all are at His disposal. I have to love my enemies, give what I have worked for to those who have not earned it, repress my thirst for pleasure of various kinds, and (perhaps worst of all) give up one day a week to warm a pew.

While affirming the truth of the above, it is impossible to not equally affirm that God makes absolutely no demands of His followers. After all, adoption into God's family is "not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast." God demands absolutely nothing from you. Otherwise it would not be a "gift of God" freely given. The same Lord who says "small is the gate" says "my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

It's a paradox, and it is by no means unique. I am called to love my enemies, but also to hope in the coming vindication of a just God. I am called to deny this world in favor of the one to come, but also to work actively in the world. I believe that God is immortal and that he died. I believe that He works in all things and that He preserves the freedom of man's will. I believe that He is self-sufficient and that He yearns for my love in a way similar to the way I yearn for His love.

And if I may go even further down this path of oversimplification, I think many of the controversies that have embroiled the church could be solved if only we would remember the devout faith of the early church in the paradoxical nature of ultimate truth. In the course of my recent readings, I have seen every manner of human contrivance conspiring to rip apart the church. Only in abandoning the strictures of human reason can we adequately express the truth of a God Who we must universally affirm transcends human categorization. The best way to express this ineffable divine mystery is in silence. Since, however, there no virtue more lacking in theologians than silence it is best to embrace our Christian heritage and express the great Truth in sets of paradoxical truths.


  1. I actually had our conversation about whether or not God could have created other worlds in mind when I wrote this. The solution to our disagreement, I decided was to affirm both that God could have freely created an infinite number of realities (or none at all) and that His nature requires that this is the only potentiality which would be actualized.