A Contradiction of Truths

A Contradiction of Truths May 1, 2013

I am learning in my life to let go of the apparent contradictions; this I believe is the result of my ability to let go of theological paradoxes, which has in turn created a space where I can let go of paradoxes in my own life. Allow me to develop this a little further.

So much rational effort has been put into the creation of systematic theologies that have attempted to explain the apparent paradoxes in our human experience with God, the Biblical accounts that seem to contradict each other and statements of dogmas that declare, in an absolutist way, their definiteness. A great example of paradox are the arguments that exist between grace and works, as we see apparent contradictions in the Epistles wrestling with God’s sovereignty and our free will. These two divergent ideas have literally split the church and caused wars. Yet, after all the wrangling, the paradox persists.

What if the paradoxes in my life, no matter how long or hard I wrangle with, persist? And what if, like these theological issues contain some true aspect of our experience of God, what if my issues and my experiences offer some divergent truths as well? 

Let me be a little more personal. One of my greatest fears has been the nagging anxiety that someone might discover I am unintelligent or dumb. And yet, there is another portion of me that knows I am very intelligent, to the point that some aspects of my life might even crest on the realms of brilliance – which leads to another paradox.

Some have suggested I have a terrible ego. And others have said I am an incredibly humble man. The truth is, in me, I relate to both. I wonder if it’s possible to find God and truths on both sides of the paradox?  And I wonder if God invites us into the “both, and” of our existence through all of the apparent paradoxes of the Scriptures and our ideas about God. That in some way, all of our assessments are incomplete, both of ourselves and others, and of God; and in that incompleteness, in the inability to fully resolve the contradictions, there we can find the very free space of love and faith for ourselves, from God, with others – because everything that is a part of us belongs. 

So here’s an invitation: reflect for a moment on the paradoxes of your experience, your life, your faith, your relationships. Perhaps the effort to resolve these contradictions has been wasted… maybe the effort should be directed towards acceptance? To accept what is. Just as I believe the paradoxes of God invites us to accept God on God’s terms. Our paradoxes help us to accept ourselves as we are. Can you accept that? And can you resist the urge to ask the less helpful question, “How do I fix that?”

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  • mhelbert

    How very Zen. Which leads to other paradoxes relating to our existence and the presence of varied spiritual understandings of self, others, the cosmos.

  • Ron Simkins

    Good insights. I think all “big picture” truth has two dynamic poles. You mention two such as grace and works or God’s sovereignty and human choice. And, as you imply; these are only two of many. Perhaps all of the big issues in life and reality can only be thought of in polarities that must both be honored, but which we seem to be limited to thinking of only one at a time.

    The goal is not as Hegel and Marx thought to find the synthesis, but to learn to live with the dynamic these two poles create in daily living. Both poles are a true part of reality and crucial to healthy thinking and living. But, the big picture is much too big for us to resolve these two poles into one; our minds are not big enough. This doesn’t mean reality is irrational or chaotic; just that it is bigger than we are, and we cannot handle it all at once in some reductionist form. But, we can live well in this dynamic if we are willing to prayerfully do so.

    Zen does acknowledge the polarity. Biblical writers do acknowledge the polarity – sometimes in a book like Proverbs, both poles are acknowledged in the same sentence. Jesus seems to be living in this “big picture dynamic” when he prays in the garden for a different way even though he knows the path that brought him to this point was the other pole of reality – sometimes God intervenes at the last moment with a surprise that surprises even the most faithful, and sometimes God let’s the principalities and powers take their course. God works from a bigger picture that is partly revealed to us, and always partly beyond our ability to grasp all at once.

    And, you are certainly right; systematic theologians have tended to attempt to reduce the poles to one with disastrous results. Unfortunately, most current US political discourse also makes this tragic mistake and assumes the right approach can be reduced to just one of the polarities of reality. The results are pretty obviously ugly.

  • Oh Lord….I needed to read that. So nice to know that I am not alone in my thinking. (Just wish I could articulate my thoughts/feelings like that.)

  • ngotts

    Just another way of denying the rather obvious truth that if there are contradictions in what you believe, what you believe is false.