“Live into the paradox,” my professor in seminary used to say. I’m pretty sure we were arguing about free will juxtaposed with God’s providence. The old “did God make me do it?” question. Or it could have been a discussion over the fine line between works and faith. Fruit and no fruit. How salvation by grace works with a God who says you can tell who loves God by their fruit … but works don’t save you.
Tricky. Very tricky.
“I got your paradox right here…” I used to mumble beneath my breath. Such confusing conversations. No wonder theologians are always pictured with grey hair and spectacles, it’s maddening thinking about all these confusing topics and going around and around and around about them with your colleagues. And it’s not like they pulled this theological stuff out of thin air. I mean, it’s in the Bible. Most of these conversations are based on conversations that take place in the Bible. What do we interpret this story? What did Jesus mean by this? What is Paul saying when he wrote that?
“To lose your life is to find it” – please! “The last shall be first.” What does that even mean?
And beyond Jesus’ metaphors and hyperboles and parables, there are other confusing parts of our Christian faith too. I was trying to encourage myself yesterday by writing scripture down in a notebook when I should have been listening to a lecture when I realized I didn’t believe what I was writing. “You shall mount up on wings as eagles, you shall run and not grow weary, you shall walk and not grow faint.” While often embossed on a pillow or hung on your bathroom wall, this verse I discovered as I was re-writing it in my journal does not make me feel better. And why? Because I feel tired; I feel faint. Because I don’t feel like an eagle in the sky, I feel like the little rat on the ground that the beautiful, hungry eagle is about to swoop down and eat!
And as for prayer. O Lord! “Ask and ye shall receive” is about the biggest load of bullock I’ve ever heard. Everyone knows that prayer doesn’t work like that. There’s no formula, no guarantee. And unless we’re privileged in society, we usually end up disappointed anyway. And what if God doesn’t even want our petitions? What if that’s not what prayer is about? Why did Jesus say that then? Ask and ye shall receive…
And we’re back again to the mystery of God. For the ones that love God are not guaranteed an easy run of it. We aren’t all eagles flying freely in the sky. Some of us are stuck in a rut, in the valley… You’d think that a God who loved you might shower a little grace down your way. Living in poverty, getting a divorce, failing Chemistry, not finding a job, battling anorexia, wrecking your car, getting your girlfriend pregnant, losing your home, fighting addiction, dealing with depression – for the joy of the Lord being our strength, sometimes this world sure is hard.
I’m just saying…
But I suppose it’s at this point that all my know-it-all, goody-two-shoes Christian acquaintances would say, “Well, God only gives you what you can handle and while you may not feel like you see God’s grace in your life – you don’t know what God’s saving you from right this very minute! His grace is sufficient.” I know it’s sufficient theoretically… theologically… but that doesn’t mean I’m having a good day!” I want to scream back. “All I’m saying is that if God loves me He might want to shower me, His beloved child, with blessings or something! At least a boyfriend!”
Ah, but I am ridiculous and God is mysterious. And yes, life is hard. And I will have the same run of the mill life as you with or without God. It’s just that I get to go with God.
Some people may tell you the world is black and white, but don’t believe them. It’s grey. In fact, it’s better than grey, its chalk full of colors blending and mixing and complimenting and sometimes turning brown.
Our God is a mysterious God and She will not be boxed in, nor will She allow herself to get all figured out by some small-minded Americans.
I’m working out my faith right now. I admit it. Doug talked about tension in scripture last night at Midweek Moorings and I’m having a heck of a time in my personal life right now and sometimes the only confession I can get out of my mouth from my very weak but trying-to-be-faithful heart is, “God is mysterious, and I love Her.”
And I will try to walk humbly with God. I will believe in an amazing God that I don’t understand, an ancient text that I don’t always relate to and a Holy Spirit that I can’t always follow.
And I will live into the paradox, despite my desperate need for stability. And I will love God. Love the mystery of God. Love Jesus who oddly enough is God incarnate. Love the Spirit who breathes new life in me when I never deserve it.