I don’t think the important thing is to be certain about answers nearly as much as being serious about the questions.
When we hold the questions, we meet and reckon with our contradictions, with our own dilemmas, and we invariably arrive at a turning point where we either evade God or meet God.
When we hang on the horns of the dilemma with Christ—between heaven and earth, between the divine and the human realms—it creates liminal space. All transformation takes place when we’re somehow in between, inside of liminal space…
God is the only one we can surrender to without losing ourselves. It’s a paradox. I am increasingly convinced that all true spirituality has the character of paradox to it, precisely because it is always holding together the whole of reality, which is always “Both.” Everything except God is both attractive and non-attractive, light and darkness, passing and eternal, life and death. There are really no exceptions.
A paradox is something that appears to be a contradiction, but from another perspective is not a contradiction at all. You and I are living paradoxes, and therefore most prepared to see ourselves in all outer reality. If you can hold and forgive the contradictions within yourself, you can normally do it everywhere else too…
In paradoxical language, if you try to rest on one side and forget the other, you lose the truth. The whole is always both-and.
We’ve seen some Christian cultures that are entirely centred on the Cross and they lose the resurrection. In wealthy countries like our own we create the “prosperity gospel,” as it is called—all resurrection and almost no reference to the pain and suffering of the world.
We lose the full mystery of God, and the mystery of our own transformation, when we stand on one side and refuse to hold the creative tension that Jesus held. It is the horizontal line of two nailed hands, between the good and the bad thief, that crucifies Jesus and that liberates us…
When Christianity aligns itself with power (and the mindset of power) there’s simply very little room for the darkness of faith; that spacious place where God is actually able to form us.
So when we speak of paradox, I’m trying to open up that space where you can “fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31), because YOU are not in control. That is always the space of powerlessness, vulnerability, and letting go. Faith happens in that wonderful place, and hardly ever when we have all the power and can hold no paradoxes. Thus you see why faith will invariably be a minority and suspect position.
Richard Rohr, adapted from Holding the Tension: The Power of Paradox (CD)
Another paradox: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Rohr here is not talking about some “anything goes” extreme of liberality, or an outpost of the post-modern where Pontius Pilate has become as candidate for canonisation on the strength of his “What is truth?” remark (John 18:38). The paradox here is a totally Biblical paradox.
If you think about it, paradox is implicit in the Gospel from beginning to end. Jesus said, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25), and “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:29-30)
The Beatitudes (Matthew 5) are entirely paradox. The idea that the persecuted and the poor in spirit are those who will be at home in the Kingdom, and that the meek will inherit the earth, must have seemed as ridiculous to the Jewish establishment as they did to the Romans and to the Zealot terrorists.
Jesus is “the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through [him].” (John 14:6) His way is the way of the Cross, a paradoxical victory if ever there was one. He said (Luke 9:23-24), “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” Our path to life and victory is the same as his, and it runs through the gate of the Cross.