Celebrating the mystery of faith

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By David Whitlock

Christianity is a religion of paradox because without faith, there is no true Christianity. Think about it: A paradox is defined as “a statement that seems contradictory, unbelievable or absurd, but that may be true in fact.”

Christians are a people of paradox because they believe to be true what appears in the natural to be unbelievable or absurd.

Bible scholar A.W. Pink wrote that “there are many paradoxes in the Christian life, which are quite unintelligible to the wise of this world. That man has to become a fool in order to be wise (1 Cor. 3:18), that he has to become a pauper in order to be made rich (Matt. 5:3), that he has to be made weak in order to become strong (2 Cor. 12:10), are enigmas that proud philosophers cannot elucidate.”

Several weeks ago, Christians celebrated the ultimate in paradox: God became fully human that by his death and resurrection they might live forever with him.

On Sunday, June 1, the church celebrates another paradox: The Ascension of the Lord.

Jesus told his disciples it would be better for them that he leave them. I can imagine them looking squint-eyed at Jesus and saying, “What?!”

Here’s another paradox: by leaving them, Jesus could be more available to them. Now, because of Pentecost, which Christians celebrate on June 8, Jesus would be with and in them. True transformation could take place because of Jesus’ absence.

It’s all about paradox and faith, isn’t it?

If committed Christians appear a bit strange, even out of place in this world, could it be because they are living this paradoxical faith in earnest?

They are joyful because they mourn, free because they are bound, peaceful because they have been broken.

But make no mistake about it, living this faith has its dangers.

An ancient letter describes the paradoxical lives of early Christians: “They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens…They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh…They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven…Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again.”

Anyone who lives this faith full on will tell you that, though it’s an exhilarating life, it is also peppered with trials and tribulations. That’s because it’s a life lived on the boundary between this world and the next.

Walking that line is an act of faith.

Ponder how the Danish theologian and philosopher Soren Kierkegaard summarized this mystery that is inherent in Christianity: “The paradox in Christian truth is invariably due to the fact that it is the truth that exists for God. The standard of measure and the end is superhuman; and there is only one relationship possible: faith.”

For Christians looking to Ascension Sunday and Pentecost, embracing the paradox requires walking by faith in a life that celebrates the mystery, even though it’s surrounded by many “dangers, toils, and snares.”

Contact David B. Whitlock at drdavid@davidbwhitlock.com.