A paradox is “a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a truth.” There is always the element of contradiction in a paradox, something that just doesn’t seem to make sense. I’ve always been fascinated by paradox. That is possibly because of the linguistic teasing involved in it. Yesterday’s song on love (‘What Matters Most’ by Wes King) was full of paradox and my favourite song on the theme is ‘God’s Own Fool’ by Michael Card, as you’re all doubtless aware, given the number of times I mention it!
’God’s Own Fool’, Michael Card
When I was at university, I studied the writings of Blaise Pascal, a 16th century mathematician and Christian philosopher. He was a Christian who wrote a work intended to be a sustained and coherent examination and defence of the Christian faith, but this work (known as ‘Pensées’, ‘Thoughts’) was never completed in his lifetime. Much of the work is like the book of Proverbs: short, pithy sayings containing truth, often expressed in paradoxical forms that tease meaning out of brief thoughts. He discusses with great wonder and beauty the human condition, the incarnation, God, the meaning of life, revelation, and the paradoxes of Christianity. He passionately argues for the Christian faith, using both argumentation and his famous “Wager”. His ideas and arguments are sometimes developed and intricate, at other times, abrupt and mysterious. My very favourite ‘thought’ said ‘The heart has its reasons which reason does not know.’
I enjoyed studying Pascal because what he wrote about fitted so well with what I was reading in the Bible: how the first would be last, how the least would be the greatest, how life comes through surrender and death, how God’s foolishness is wiser than man’s wisdom and His weakness stronger than man’s strength (see Matt 19:30 TNIV, Mark 8:35 TNIV, 1 Cor 1:25 TNIV) I also enjoyed being at a place where learning was so admired and venerated and yet I saw clearly that that was not the sum total of what life was all about: it felt like life at Oxford was living my own paradox! (I have to say that Pascal also made a lot more sense than the despairing nihilism of 19th century philosophers like Nietzsche or 20th century existentialists such as Sartre, which formed part of the rest of my studies!)
Paradox, I think, is at the heart of Christianity because we live in a topsy-turvy world. Sin has messed things up so that we are not living in the world the right way up. We think we are seeing clearly, when in fact, we need God to open our eyes (see 2 Kings 6:8-23 TNIV).
C. S. Lewis wrote, ‘The Christian way is simply (I say simply because though the idea is easy, it is very difficult indeed) to continually get out of the way so that we can be a conduit of God’s power and love and glory. The same applies for growth as a Christian. The harder we try to grow, the less we are growing. We need to allow growth to happen to us.’ I think paradox is at the heart of our daily walk with God. Every time we think we’ve got it all sussed out, God opens our eyes afresh and we realise it’s not quite how we thought it was going to be. Paradox actually paves the way to perception, for us to perceive reality as it really is, not as it looks without God.