The Paradox Conundrum

What do you have when Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz are on TV at the same time? Answer, a pair o’ docs paradox! Do I hear groans? Sorry. I heard the same joke growing up with Dr. Kildare and Dr. Ben Casey in the 60s. Not to mention Marcus Welby M.D. Everyone had their favorites. Good thing they weren’t all on at the same time. Families might have been torn apart over the conundrum of which show to watch.

It’s an unfortunate and disturbing fact that over the centuries God’s family has been torn apart over conundrums in the Bible. Most people who read God’s word have come to realize it contains paradoxes. You know, those perplexities people have to solve like a riddle or clues in a scavenger hunt. For some, coming up with the “right” answer becomes their focus. Then their answer becomes an obsession. The obsession breeds contention, usually followed by conflict and division. The sad part is that our enemy, the Devil, has been able to use such conflicts to keep people from seeing the love of Christ working in and through the church. Instead of being drawn to Him, they are repelled.

So, may I ask, “Does God want us to know the answer to everything in the Bible?” I think some would say “yes.” Since shortly after the church began, men we call “theologians” have been trying to answer the unanswerable questions so we might better “know God.” But God Himself has said, “My thoughts are not your thoughts. My ways are not your ways” (Isa. 55:8). Can we not let God be God?

How do we reconcile having strength through weakness (2 Cor. 12:10)? Or life through dying (John 12:24)? Finding by losing (Matt. 10:39)? Being set free through servitude (Rom. 6:18)? Receiving through giving (Acts 20:35)? Along with many others. We may come up with a biblical understanding for some of these types of brainteasers, but do we need a definitive answer for every paradox in the Bible?

Perhaps God put certain enigmas in His word just to make us scratch our heads? For instance, what’s the answer to this question? Is it “Christ in you” (Col. 1:27) or is it “You are in Christ” (1 Cor. 1:30)? The simple biblical answer is BOTH! And doesn’t the same answer apply to the question that has divided true believers in Christ for centuries: Is a man chosen by God from eternity past, OR does every man have a choice to make, to trust in Christ or not? Although there are many passages that show one side or the other of this dual mystery of God, Paul alludes to both in his letter to the church in Ephesus.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved…

“In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.

“In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory” – Ephesians 1:3-6; 11-14 (Italics are mine).

What may be the first message of Jesus recorded for us is found in Mark 1:15. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Jesus called men to repent and believe. The implication is a purposeful, thoughtful response to the message of truth; a move from unbelief to faith in what God has provided as a gift of His loving grace to any who will receive it. “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher?…So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ” (Romans 10:13-14; 17).

Peter came to realize the fullness of God‘s message of salvation for all men. “All the prophets testify about Him that through His name everyone who believes in Him will receive forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:43).  The apostle Paul clearly understood and appreciated what God has done for us. “This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’—and I am the worst of them” (1 Tim. 1:15). He also understood who the message of repentance was for. “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has set a day when He is going to judge the world in righteousness by the Man He has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30). Everyone has a choice to make: to receive God’s forgiveness through faith in Christ or not.

And yet we know the gift of salvation comes from God alone. “But it is from Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became God-given wisdom for us—our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, in order that, as it is written: The one who boasts must boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:30-31). “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). Only God can get the glory for this.

May I suggest, dear brothers and sisters, that we don’t need to come up with answers to all the paradoxes in the Bible? “Remind believers about these things, and warn them in the sight of God not to quarrel over words. Quarreling doesn’t do any good but only destroys those who are listening” (2 Tim. 2:14). I pray we all focus instead on being able to give an answer for the hope that lives within us (1 Pet. 3:15), and letting our light shine in such a way that people may see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16).

I am in no way suggesting “checking your brain at the door”. We are admonished to study to show ourselves approved unto God (2 Tim. 2:15). Nor am I trying to convince anyone to change their beliefs. I’m only saying there are things in God’s Word people have been debating for centuries, and I’m sure some will continue to do so. But if we let those things continue to divide the Body of Christ, what are we really doing? “Now I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, that there be no divisions among you, and that you be united with the same understanding and the same conviction” (1 Cor. 1:10).

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