Paradox (unabridged)

Do you know what a paradox is? Webster says a paradox is a seeming contradiction. For example, you are a paradox. In fact, we all are.

We love and we hate. We laugh when others are crying. We smile when we are wounded. We love God with all of our heart, but don’t give Him the time of day. We live according to the Spirit, but walk after the flesh. We are new people in Christ who consider ourselves something akin to the bird droppings on the sidewalk. We have the world by the tail, but feel as though it is kicking ours. We are down when we have every reason to be up, despondent after encouraging someone else, and are determined to make it on our own while blessed with the presence of God within us. We preach grace, but live according to legalism or license. We are children of the King, but we live as spiritual paupers.

And guess what? God is a paradox as well. Theologians wrestle with His seeming contradictions all the time. In fact, these apparent incongruities account for many of our denominational differences. God chooses us, but insists upon preserving our ability to reject or choose Him. He loves and He hates. He holds us in His hand while living in us. He is absolutely just, yet lavishly merciful. He is absolutely holy, yet He took our sin on Himself. He dwells in unapproachable light, but makes His home in dark places. He is passionate to the point of anger, but is joy personified. He never changes, yet He cannot be predicted.

Is it possible to explain these paradoxes of God? To some extent, yes, just as you can be explained to some extent. But that is not the point. Part of the intrigue of a relationship is acknowledging the inexplicable. Part of the reason I love my wife is because she is a mystery. Part of the reason I love God is because He is new every morning while remaining the same yesterday, today, and forever.

The goal of marriage is not to figure out my wife, and the goal of my relationship with God is not to figure Him out. I married my wife in order to know her, to enjoy her, and to contribute something of myself to her. She married me for essentially the same reasons. Together, we embarked upon a lifelong excursion into each other’s soul and heart the day we said, “I do.” Together, we benefit from understanding each other. Together, we go where no one else has gone before. Father God knew what He was doing when He said our relationship with Him is like marriage.

Knowing God is not about explaining His paradoxes. To know Him is to understand that He is paradoxical. If we could explain God, we would be sought after for our wisdom. If we could eliminate His paradoxes, we would be sought after for the power of our reason. If we could box God and present Him rationally, we would be wealthy people. But God cannot—will not—be explained. He insists upon being related to, loved, known, understood, and appreciated for who He is.

Jeremiah writes, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me’” (9:23-24a).

Like you, I know about God, but I have no interest in simply knowing about God. I want to understand Him! Explaining God is an intellectual, secondary priority. Knowing Him is an understanding of the heart. Paul expresses my heart well when he declares that his determined purpose is to know Christ (Phil. 3:7-10).

Were it not for the paradoxes my wife would be boring and my Heavenly Father would be predictable. I am interested in neither! Boring and predictable are synonymous with routine and ritual. That paradoxes exist evokes sentience, surprise, and grace. These fuel our relationship with intrigue, mystery, and energy.

We must constantly be on guard against reducing relationship to rules and formulae. Father God is amazingly tolerant of such legalism in our relationship. But like anyone else, God wants to be understood and appreciated for who He is, not boxed and explained as if He were a commodity or theological principle.

An adequate definition of relationship must allow for the presence of paradox. And like a paradox, a relationship cannot be explained. It must be understood.