Paradox: Living Beyond the Dot-to-Dot

By Ben Swift

The human mind, as it seeks to make sense of the universe and everything in it, loves to join the dots. Our journey in forming our lines of logic and reasoning probably begins with our recognition as babies that crying and screaming soon leads to a nice meal of warm milk, perhaps some extra attention and maybe even a cuddle. A few years on and we progress to dot-to-dot colouring books before learning to systematize all of life, neatly compartmentalizing everything from personality types to academic faculties and finally graduating with a perfectly organized sock and undie draw.

When it comes to contemplating the things of God, however, how will a dot-to-dot species deal with the possibility of paradox and mystery in a scientific and technological age? You don’t have to study the Scriptures for long before realizing that God cannot and will not fit into any box of our making. He tells us this himself:

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).

So, what are we to do when God’s truth is revealed to us in ways that sometimes defy human logic and reasoning?

It might be helpful to take a brief look at why this is such a difficult thing for Christians, particularly in the West. Prof. Lois Tverberg suggests that those educated in Western institutions ‘formulate ideas as our Greek cultural ancestors did…We think in abstractions and find proof-based logical argument far more convincing than the parables Jesus used. As Children of the Enlightenment, we have seen the power of human reason conquer the physical world and are convinced that human reason is the measure of all things.’[1]

Certainly, human reason has enabled us to achieve many great things. In fact, it is a gift from God that separates us from the animals, allowing us to contemplate meaning and truth.[2] If we are to let God be God, however, it’s important to acknowledge the line between his all-knowing divinity and our finite humanity. While this line frustrates and divides those who wish to join all the dots in an attempt to systematize the hidden things of God, it provides rest for those willing to embrace mystery in faith.

‘For if reason alone could explain the reality of God, then faith would become obsolete.’[3]

This is not to suggest we abandon all wisdom and reason, not even close. God has indeed revealed many things enabling us to defend the reasonableness of our faith. God, revealed to us in Christ, helps us to join many dots. On the other hand, he leaves us with several truths that appear to stand in tension with each other, apparent contradictions if you like, refusing to let us join the dots destined to remain in the hiddenness of God.

‘For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate”’ (1 Corinthians 1:19).

Consider creation of something from nothing, or worshipping a Triune God who, while eternally remaining one is actually three unique persons of one substance. Who can make logical sense of such things? What difficult concepts flying in the face of scientific, human logic. The ultimate paradox at the heart of Christian Theology, however, lies in the truth that we are called to die in order to live. What?

And then there’s those questions that keep emerging whenever we wonder why some people are saved and not others. While John 6:44 teaches that no one can come to the Christ unless the Father draws him, it’s also taught in Psalm 57 that God longed for his people to return to him, but they were not willing? There are so many questions that cry out for answers, dots seemingly unable to be connected.

If, through the eyes of faith, we acknowledge that everything God reveals in his Word is truth, how should we make sense of such apparent tensions and contradictions?

Tensions existing in Scripture are perhaps best viewed as biblical truths tracking in parallel lines, side by side but never coming together in human logic. We can only hope that when Christ returns and the veil is finally lifted, these lines will diverge, forming a single tightly wound thread fully revealing the eternal wisdom and purposes of God. Only then may we take out our frustrated pencils for the final time and join these dots.

No doubt we will all encounter many questions on our Christian journeys, many more questions than answers. While we continue trying to make sense of everything in the best way we can, seeking to connect as many dots as possible, may we also walk humbly before God, always with faith that he works all things for good. May we learn to rest in the truth that we are unable to connect all of the dots, God doesn’t want us to. Rather he wants us to trust in him, look to Christ and the truths revealed through him, leaving mystery to mystery, embracing paradox.     

[1] Tverberg, Lois. Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus, (Baker Books, Grand Rapids Michigan, 2017) p.37.

[2] Swift, Benjamin. Beyond the Fish Sticker: Seeking a Deeper Knowledge of God and Ourselves, (Morning Star Publishing, Sydney, 2019) p.11.

[3] Swift, Benjamin. Beyond the Fish Sticker: Seeking a Deeper Knowledge of God and Ourselves, (Morning Star Publishing, Sydney, 2019) p.50.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s