I met a young friend at a coffee shop last week and our conversation turned to some of the many paradoxes of our faith. Specifically, we spoke of how married couples often turn on each other, becoming bitter and mean-spirited, always trying to “win” in any particular conflict. But Jesus says that we must humble ourselves, and I’ve discovered in my marriage that when I do so, we both “win.” And when my husband humbles himself, I love him more, not less. I don’t want to take advantage of his humility, but match it with my own.
Sometimes I wonder how these kinds of “backward” thinking work. When Jesus says to love my enemies and bless those who curse me, it really is the best way to live. When he says to trust that he will provide for me—despite what my bank account looks like—I can trust him. When he says I’m strongest when I’m weak, I can believe it’s true.
God’s paradoxes don’t make sense to us, and they don’t have to. They just have to be true. And the thing is, we won’t know if they’re true unless we believe they are and live them out.
Rob Bell writes in his thought-provoking book Velvet Elvis, that “It’s not so much that the Christian faith has a lot of paradoxes. It’s that it is a lot of paradoxes. And we cannot resolve a paradox. We have to let it be what it is.”
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.
If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.
. . . do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.
If [someone] sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, “I repent,” forgive him.
In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.
A paradox is a seeming contradiction, an illogical thought, an absurdity. And, frankly, so much of what God asks of us is absurd. By human standards, that is. We’re all about self-preservation, getting ahead, winning. He’s all about transforming us into his likeness. And we can’t keep on functioning by human standards and expect to become like our Father.
That would be absurd.