As we approach the Great Feast of the Nativity, I have been struck by the constant presence of paradox which we Christians constantly face. While the word paradox itself seems to have several slightly varied meanings, Merriam-Webster says that it may be used to denote “something (such as a situation) that is made up of two opposite things and that seems impossible but is actually true or possible.”
It seems to me as a lover of both the Old and New Testaments as well as a believer in Jesus Christ as Messiah, that we are not only forced by circumstance to comfortably dwell in paradox but that it is right within that cultural and religious meilieu where God wants us to be. You see, we are a people who should properly acknowledge that God is the Great Creator of cosmos. As one of our beloved ancient prayers accounts, He “tumbles the planets in His fingers.” He is the Great Unknowable for we are small and finite, He is Omnipotent and Infinite. However, as Christians who will soon celebrate the Incarnation, that is, that God came and dwelt among us, in the flesh, we now claim to know Him. We now believe that God is knowable through Jesus Christ. The Untouchable was touched by His mother Mary, embraced by His brothers Peter and Andrew, James and John. This is truly a paradox, and we, have properly learned to see that God is capable of bridging the unbridgeable. The evil one is incapable of this miracle. He seems to be most effective when he convinces us to embrace blind fellowship or ignorant acceptance of our circumstances. Jesus Christ calls us to a greater fullness of human understanding. He challenges our thinking from the rigorous either/or and left/right paradigms, into something bigger.
Of course, Christians are called to be moral, we are called to embrace the commandments, we are even challenged to become even more righteous than the Pharisees with whom Jesus so often debated. Yet at the same time, Christ denies the Pharisees an opportunity to stone an adulteress and is often accused of violating laws regarding the Sabbath. He introduced many Pharisees into what seemed a paradox. Of course, none of what I am saying should lead anyone to believe, however, that I am in any way calling us to a less moral life, I am certainly not, and according to Christ’s own words neither is He. What I am suggesting is that the moral life which we are called to live, by Christ’s own words and example, must now be rigorously viewed through the lens of God’s all-encompassing love even if this sometimes seems confusing. We are now called to a higher, more discerning life.
The Incarnation itself is a huge hint that God is not a simpleton. We are constantly called to discern this higher kind of faith which surpasses the Law, yet He says to us in Matthew 18:3, “Except you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
Though He seeks from us a faith which exhibits innocence, He certainly is not calling us to some “childish” kind of faith, but a “child-like” kind of faith. Childishness is selfishness, black and white, and an “I’m right and your stupid” kind of attitude. Child-like faith is gentle and cautious, yet aggressively affectionate and willing to follow. Child-like faith will require us to “judge with right judgment” but also to “pull the plank from our own eyes.” Such teachings are challenging and seem paradoxical to our limited minds and hearts, which push and pull us. But will take a child-like desire to negotiate these types of terrain. We must become willing to ask questions with the hopes of actually seeking answers. That’s what children do, they ask questions of adults because they believe they have the answers. We have to be willing to do the same with God.
When it comes to worship, paradox seems ever-present. As Orthodox Christians, we fully defend and uphold that the Father scripturally reveals worship as He would have it throughout the Old and New Testament. To not see the beauty of worship in ritual and tradition is to ignore completely whole chapters of Deuteronomy, Exodus, and even the Psalms. We glean from New Testament revelation the depths of God-inspired ritual and traditions in regards to what heavenly worship looks like, that Jesus Christ spent a great deal of time in formal, beautiful worship, and that His followers did too, even AFTER His Ascension. Yet on the other side, Jesus appears to purge the temple of those who defile the temple, often accused of doing so to purge the temple of the very worship which He called the Jews to embrace. But in truth, He did this not because of their worship, but because of their lack of true worship. The Lord is not being inconsistent or paradoxical though it may seem. He is simply calling us to a higher level of worship, grounded in love and understanding.
Jesus Christ is revolutionary. He challenges the Human Person to see God in a bigger way than he or she has ever seen Him before. He challenges us to approach one another with a kind of openness like the world has never seen. He was clear with us that in order to embrace the Real and Living God, one would have to learn to embrace the Great Paradox, as real a fullness of relationship would require. If we are to be followers of The Way, we will have to get comfortable with the same. I say we’ll even have to become more vigilant in embracing what sometimes feels like a paradox. If we are to become true Christians of the true faith, we must be willing to see God for who He is, and become comfortable within the great visions of paradox with which He weaves. Though we crave a fuller understanding of all things, not all things will necessarily be shared with us in this life, and as Christians, we will have to become ok with that to some degree. He is God and knows all things and understands all things which we call paradox, even though we do not yet. If we did, then we would be god, but thankfully (for everyone’s sake), we are not.
So let us step back and appreciate He who tumbles all things in His hands, and who loves those who love Him. Let us learn to be patient with He who sends His Son in the Flesh in order that we too might be saved by Him who teaches us to love and to learn about Him in new and better ways, until the day upon which He chooses to reveal all things to those whom He wishes.