What are some examples of paradoxes in the Bible?
What Does the Bible Teach through Paradoxes?
by Kile Baker
Paradoxes are a unique way of communicating.
Somehow, two things are put together that communicate something profound through their contradiction.
Take these for example: Socrates famously said: “I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”
Which is it? Does he know nothing or the one thing which is nothing?
You can’t know both nothing and something!
Or what about Vince Lombardi’s observation: “Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit.”
You can only have a habit if you do something over and over, and quitters don’t do that!
These are head-scratchers, right?
And these are just everyday paradoxes.
The Bible is full of them, and they’re immensely important in helping us understand God, ourselves, and the world.
What Is a Paradox?
If you were to google “paradox,” you’d probably get something like: “A self-contradictory statement that when explained may be true.”
It’s not a bad definition, but since we’re talking Scripture here, and Scripture is ultimately from God, the truth will be what we’re after.
We don’t want to know what may be true about God; we want to know what is true about God.
So here’s my definition: “A paradox is Truth, held in the tension of contradiction.”
Notice the capital “T”? It’s the big truth stuff, not just that 2+2=4 but the Truth about God’s nature, power, and interaction in the world.
It’s the big stuff! And since you’ll probably want to know how it affects you, let’s say it this way:
“Paradoxes are how we discover the Truth about you and God, in the tension of contradiction.”
So let’s do that. Here are three huge paradoxes found in Scripture that communicate something significant about you and God.
Paradox #1: With Jesus, impossible is the new possible.
Early on in Jesus’ ministry, His credentials were questioned pretty regularly.
People thought they knew His parents, where He was really from, who He was (and wasn’t), and what He was about.
But that all changed in a very crowded room, in a small house outside of Jerusalem in the 1st century.
Many people had gathered to hear Jesus teach, including His disciples, the house owners, the neighbors, the religious ruling class, and anyone who happened to be in the area.
Jesus was known as a teacher and a healer by this point, so a brave group of friends brought their immobile friend to Jesus to see if He could give the man the ability to walk.
At one point during the encounter, he asked what appeared to be a very easy question in Luke 5:23: “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?”
They all knew the answer to this question.
It was “Your sins are forgiven” because you couldn’t see forgiveness — but you could tell if a once crippled man could suddenly walk!
Jesus had already told the man that his sins were forgiven, which highly bothered the religious folk, while the rest of the people probably just shrugged.
How could you tell if it was true or not?
They may have just been words. And then Jesus complicates the matter a bit, because to the surprise of everyone in the room, the crippled is told to get up, take his mat and go home — and he can.
Uh oh, this is a bit awkward. If Jesus could do that, guess what else they had realized was a real possibility?
That Jesus could actually forgive sins. But if only God could do that, then what did that say about this man named Jesus?
Surely He was more than a man, right?
The Truth about God:
The Truth about God is that He often works in ways we see as improbable and impossible.
As Christians, we seem to think God simply can’t work in some ways, situations, or through certain circumstances.
People in the 1st century thought that too.
And then Jesus just caused them to question everything they thought was possible with God.
Maybe you should too?
The Truth About You:
The Truth about you is, you sometimes think that just because you can’t see God at work in the world or in your life, that He isn’t doing anything.
Maybe like the forgiveness that couldn’t be seen in the story, God is working in powerful ways in your life, but you just can’t see it or haven’t realized it yet?
Paradox #2: Suffering is a blessing.
I don’t know anyone who prays for and seeks suffering.
That wouldn’t be just weird, but wildly unhealthy. And yet, somehow, suffering is unique in the sense that God does some of His best work through it.
Through suffering, God brings something meaningful from something terrible.
God isn’t the cause of the suffering, but He can bring good from it.
The writer of Hebrews draws a direct correlation:
“In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what He suffered.”
There was no other way. As Christians, we usually highlight that God died for us, and rightly so, but it can be easy to forget that He also suffered for us.
God didn’t have to do that; He chose to.
It’s what makes the life of Jesus and His selfless act on our behalf even more incredible.
God allowed Himself to be humiliated, tortured, and finally killed — terrible things that we should have experienced if we take the impact of our sin against God seriously.
He truly blessed us through His suffering.
Through the loss of His life, we could gain ours.
Because He suffered, we could be blessed.
The Truth about God:
The Truth about God is, He suffered for you and me willingly.
It was the plan.
From the moment sin entered the world, God intended to suffer and die on your behalf.
God blessed us through His own suffering. How crazy is that!
The Truth About You:
The Truth about you is, you don’t want to suffer.
Not even for a moment, but there are some things we can only get through suffering.
Some parts of our faith can only be built and grown through suffering.
Don’t seek to suffer, but if it comes, see how God may be using it to draw you closer to Him.
Paradox #3: Bad news is good news.
There are a ton of other paradoxes in the Bible, but let me mention just one more, and it’s an important one:
It’s the idea that bad news actually gets us to the good news.
When someone goes to the doctor, they’ll usually be given three pieces of information: the diagnosis, the prognosis, and the cure.
The diagnosis tells us what’s wrong with us. It may be as simple as “your arm is broken” to “you have cancer.”
The prognosis is what will happen to you if you’re left untreated.
If you don’t put your arm in a cast, it will remain crooked and broken, or if you don’t kill the cancer, it will kill you.
The cure is the treatment that will make your arm usable again or help you continue to live by killing the cancer.
Christianity has its own set of these three pieces of information.
The diagnosis is, we’ve “all fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) because of our sin.
It’s the default human condition.
The prognosis is “death” is the natural and spiritual consequence of being in and remaining in our sin (Romans 5:12).
The cure is that through Jesus Christ, we can receive the gift of eternal life from God (Romans 6:23) and that sin no longer is our master — God is.
Here’s the thing: the offer from God, the “good news” of how God has rescued us from ourselves through Christ, is more generous than we thought when we realize how bad the bad news is.
Without Christ, the bad news is that we’re terrible people who will naturally separate ourselves from God in this life temporarily and in the next life eternally if left to ourselves.
When we realize that’s our default state, that we’ve been incredibly offensive and harmful to God, it softens our hearts to the point of surrender when we’re confronted with the fact that instead of God leaving us to our flawed selves, He gave us His good self.
He’s the reason that the bad news paradoxically leads us to the good news.
The Truth about God:
The Truth about God is, He could have given us exactly what we deserved: to live life for ourselves, apart from Him for now and throughout eternity. It wouldn’t have been His fault at all.
The Truth About You:
The Truth about you (and I) is that apart from God, we don’t have a shred of goodness in us.
Jesus was clear when He said, “no one is good but God alone.” He’s right.
You and I aren’t good, but God is. And He chose to be good to us.
These are just three of the pivotal paradoxes in the Bible, but if you open it up and poke around for 5 minutes, you’ll find a lot more, including how God is both one in essence and three in personhood.
You’ll discover that Jesus Himself is a walking paradox as He is both God and man, both limitless and finite.
Paradoxes may be hard to understand, but they’re one of the best ways to understand who God is and how He operates.
The power of paradoxes is understanding that something that can’t be true actually is.
[Kile Baker is a former Atheist who didn’t plan on becoming a Christian, let alone a Pastor, who now writes to try and make Christianity simple.]
Also Paul points out that even our Christian Life is paradoxical, and we have to learn to embrace It…
In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul insisted on this paradox of being human, which is to say, in one sense, that we’re both morally frail and also morally aspiring.
In Romans 7, he confesses his own tragic doubleness:
“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
In this, we’re a mystery to ourselves: We fail the good that we will, and indulge the evil that we hate.”
The fact is, we each prove Paul’s point every day.
And most importantly, the Bible teaches us about the most important paradox in order for us to live our lives in complete dedication to God…
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me” (Galatians 2:20).
To save one’s life, he or she must lose it. “Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it” (Luke 17:33).
To be wise, we must become fools. “If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise” (I Corinthians 3:18).
To reign, we must serve. “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things” (Matthew 25:21).
To be exalted, we must become humble. “And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).
To be first, we must be last. “So the last shall be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16).
Selah (let us pause and calmly think about these things)
Wed, June 22
ENGAGING THE POWER OF PARADOX
A paradox may be described as “a contradiction with meaning written underneath.”
On the surface, it makes little or no sense.
Only the discerning eye (or heart) can perceive the underlying meaning.
A familiar example occurs in the writings of St. Paul:
“When I am weak then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9–11).
At a rational level, the statement makes no sense, yet many among us can recall experiences within which the statement rings true.
It is the mystic more than anybody else that can entertain and embrace this paradoxical wisdom.
This alternative consciousness, with its capacity for deeper perception and understanding, is not merely a feature of human life but an evolutionary endowment that characterizes all creation at the cosmic and planetary levels alike.
Birth and death are not merely human experiences; they characterize the whole of God’s creation.
On the planetary scale, earthquakes serve as a good example.
Metaphorically, an earthquake can be described as the earth-body releasing its pent-up energies, so that it can continue to grow and flourish in a more creative way.
Without earthquakes, we would have no earth, nor would any of us be around even to speculate on this baffling paradox of birth-death-rebirth.
[from the book Paschal Paradox: Reflections on a Life of Spiritual EVOLUTION, by Diarmuid O’Murchu, page 61-62]
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