Paradoxical God

One of the most striking facets of the Bible is its embrace of paradox. Not contradictions, mind you — the Bible doesn’t defeat itself — but it certainly presents parallel realities that seem to conflict. In fact, there are almost too many to count.

  • One God in three persons.
  • Jesus was fully God and fully man.
  • God is infinitely just and eternally gracious. 
  • The elect are chosen, but all humans are created with free will. 
  • We are saved by grace through faith which, without works, is dead. 
  • “An eye for an eye” and “turn the other cheek.”
  • His strength is made perfect in our weakness. 
  • We become fools to gain wisdom. 
  • Be as shrewd as snakes but innocent as doves.
  • The first shall become last. 
  • Dying to live.

This fancy for paradox seems evident even in the arrangement of Bible stories. There are two accounts of creation. Two accounts of the giving of the law. Jesus cleared the temple twice and fed multitudes twice. Today I studied 1 Samuel 16 and 17, two profiles of young David and two accounts of the way he entered Saul’s consciousness. And there are, of course, four gospels. Besides giving us collaborating evidence, I wonder if there is another reason the Lord left us multiple accounts of his life, death and resurrection. Perhaps to illustrate some deeper truth about his character. He seems to be a God given to duality and complexity, most himself when creating tension.

These kind of enigmas can make us doubt. We tend to mistrust what we don’t understand. But I think, appropriately, there is a two-fold lesson in that.

We needn’t worry about understanding these paradoxes. God is ineffable and eternal. We will never understand him. Corrie Ten Boom said, “A religion that is small enough for our understanding would not be big enough for our needs.” The appropriate response to divine paradox is not deeper study or more research; it’s worship. We aren’t called to understand God; we are called to love him.

Secondly, God seems intent on enforcing another paradox with regard to his friendship with humans: he wants more people to trust him, but he doesn’t make it easy on them. The scriptures and our own experiences are chock-full of examples of God calling people to greater faith. He calls us to step out on the water, to leave the land of our fathers, to sell our possessions, to get out of our comfort zones. God wants us to trust, but the very nature of trust demands that he can’t make it easy on us to do so.

I don’t understand a lot of the Bible. I can make it fit into a theological framework, but I don’t understand it on a gut level. On a “yeah, that makes sense, that’s what I would do” level. But that is all the more reason to trust and worship the God whose ways are higher than mine. And that’s a lesson I could stand to learn more than once.