Scholars and laypeople alike have struggled with difficult texts over the centuries. But rather than being a stumbling block, I’ve found many of the Bible’s paradoxes to be a cause for worship.
The definition of a paradox is: “A seemingly absurd or contradictory statement or proposition which when investigated may prove to be well founded or true”.
Far from making us doubt the Bible, paradoxes can aid us in our worship of God. Here are three examples.
- Jesus: Man or God?
John 1:14 says the word was made flesh. The idea of Jesus going to the bathroom makes some Christians uncomfortable, but it’s true. Jesus was fully man.
At the same time, John 1 also says the word made flesh “was God” and Paul writing in Titus 2:13 says Jesus is “our great God”.
So was Jesus a man? Or was he God? The Christian answer is: both. So here’s where the paradox is created.
What’s remarkable about this paradox is it’s impossible for human minds to grasp. There is no analogy or comparison that will help us explain Christ’s nature – or the trinity for that matter. There has never been another God-man. In this area of theology, along with many others, God is incomparable.
Jesus being both man and God makes us worship a god who chose to reveal himself in a unique and unexpected way. Jesus was human and therefore able to identify with mankind’s sufferings. Jesus was God and therefore the only person able to live a perfect life on our behalf.
- Dirty sinners or loved saints?
The Bible’s perspective on humankind is a mixed one. Some verses speak of our sinfulness, others elevate humankind to a very high level. Which is it?
Again the answer is: both. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, but by sinning our nature has been corrupted to the point that we are spiritually dead and in need of resurrection.
It is a mystery that God chooses to save people who have rebelled against Him, yet in His grace, He does.
Those who are in Christ are new creations. But it’s important not to misunderstand this identity. Our status as a ‘loved saint’ does not mean that we are perfect. Such a belief would lead us to pride. In the Bible’s evenhanded and honest depiction of humanity, we can find much truth in the grey areas.
Having a right view of ourselves makes us worship. A perfect God understands us, loves us and cares for His corrupted creation. This is a glorious paradox that works in two ways. It doesn’t matter whether you’re studying mankind’s wickedness or the way humans are “fearfully and wonderfully made”. Either way, God’s glory is magnified.
- Freewill or Predestination?
Do we have freewill, or does God determine events? Many people’s natural inclination is to say we have freewill. After all, it didn’t feel like God predestined me to follow Him.
Unfortunately the Bible doesn’t let the freewill advocates off the hook so easily. The word “predestine” does appear in the Bible, and despite attempts to redefine it, the Greek scholars out there will tell you it means what it says. Ephesians 1 and Romans 8 make it clear that God has determined beforehand who will be “adopted as sons” and “conformed to the image of God’s son”.
Does that mean we have no freewill? Certainly not. Without freewill, the world simply wouldn’t make sense. And without freewill there would be no use to having the Bible’s instructions on morality. Why tell us how to behave if God has already determined every sinful and saintly act in advance?
Having freewill makes us worship the God who gives us all a choice to follow Him, and does not coerce anyone. Being predestined as sons and daughters makes us worship a God who calls us and knows us by name. In this sense we see that both our freewill and our predetermined reality give us cause to worship God.
In his recent book, Paradoxology, the President of London School of Theology, Krish Kandiah, makes the bold claim that paradoxes are “actually the heart of our vibrant faith, and that it’s only by continually wrestling with them – rather than trying to pin them down or push them away – that we can really worship God, individually and together.”
By combining the words “paradox” and “doxology”, which means praise, Krish reminds his readers that good theology should move us to worship. Even these difficult paradoxes reveal God’s magnificence as a being who though cannot be fully comprehended, can be wholeheartedly loved and followed.