The Proliferation of Paradox

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I'd like to spend a number of blog entries exploring what I've named the "proliferation of paradox," that is, the reality that paradox is an intimate part of our life in Christ.

Paradox as a concept has drawn and fascinated me ever since I was presented with John Donne's poetry. It's difficult for me not to do a double-take when I read lines like, "Death, thou shalt die" (Holy Sonnet X) and "Nor ever chaste except You ravish me" (HS XIV) and "Therefore that He may raise, the Lord throws down" (Hymn to God, my God, in my sickness).

Paradox was brought to my mind again today as I marked a number of student paper proposals, and I was flooded with a tide of arguments that were predicated on the idea that although a woman (in this case the Anglo-Saxon heroine, Judith) may side-step social gender roles when empowered by God, she really isn't exhibiting feminist resistance because she is actually still submitting to and being domineered by a male authority figure (this said figure being God). Again and again I read these outcries. Alas God, how you bind us women! These are the moments when it is very difficult being constrained by the roles of the institution and contract I have signed; O! how every ounce of me wants to burst into an explanation and hymn of the glories of God, and not simply write, "Consider how you might complicate this argument. Is it a simple dichotomy of either/or?"

To most of my students, there is no paradox present. Only religious patriarchal oppression. But as I was out walking today, I was overwhelmed by the preciousness of the paradox: indeed, Donne captures this particular one when he exclaims, "Take me to You, imprison me, for I/Except You enthrall me, never shall be free" (HS XIV). It is absolutely incredible that our freedom is inextricable from our captivity to the Lord. O how utter submission and abandon to the lordship of Jesus Christ is beyond comparison the most freeing and enlivening place to be!

As I meditated on this, I realized just how tightly paradox is woven into the Christian life. Why, I wondered?

As a cross-section in my learning this week, God has also been teaching me about the necessity of suffering for His name, and that this must be built upon a passion for His glory. I picked up The Pleasures of God and was confronted with the fact that the gospel is "the good news of the glory of the happy God" (Piper 25). I realized (O that I might REALize it more!) that my fear of suffering, my shame at not being bold in sharing my faith, my desire for comfort and my preoccupation with trying to control and plan out my life stems from my refusal to pursue and seek to enjoy what God enjoys: Himself. (It's an excellent book thus far, and I've heard nothing but good reviews - check it out if you're interested!). But how does this intersect with my discussion of paradox? Simply put: paradox is but a word that describes the reality that God is gloriously God, and we are not, and yet God wants to share Himself with us. Paradox must result when we, who are not God, encounter He who is God. And thus the Paradox is an expression of the deep, deep joy that is ours in God!

It is utterly beyond me how enduring suffering can be the path that God demands we follow in order to enter into His joy. At least, this is how I feel as I write. Prior to suffering, I am in trepidation of suffering; and potentially while I'm going through suffering, experiencing suffering, I will be in bewilderment and confusion. But as I've been listening to people share from their hearts about their suffering, I've seen that when they bear witness to God's grace, they have far more joy and confidence than I. I think about the apostle Paul - who was this man to be able to urge, exhort, command the Philippian Christians to "rejoice always!"? Only a man who had been stoned, beaten, attacked, slandered, and left for dead. Only a man who pleaded with God to take away a source of suffering in his life, to which God replied, "My grace is sufficient for You, for power is perfected in weakness." Talk about paradox.

And then we read: "Jesus...who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God" (Heb.12:2b).

This paradox of suffering and joy is one that I cannot humanly understood. But everywhere that I see the presence of God, I see the reality of it. O how I want it! I really, desperately want it! I'm terrified of the suffering - and yet - O let this be true!! - I'm more terrified of missing out on the joy!

I close. The proliferation of paradox, as I have just defined it, is then a nuanced re-proclamation of the ultimate goal that guides my life in Christ. The refrain: the glory of God.


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