Faith has its joys . . . and tensions

Take a minute and think. What did you believe the Christian life was all about when you first began your “journey with Jesus?” Now that you’ve been down the path a ways, just how did your early expectations match the reality you’ve experienced? For many, and I’ll lump myself in with this group, we didn’t really have a good picture of what it would mean to follow Jesus, be part of his body (part of the church) or how to relate to non-believers as cultures were determined to clash.

I sort of expected a relationship with God would bring order and a calm rationality to life. Instead, I have learned that living in faith involves much dynamic tension. Throughout church history, it seems that Christian leaders have shown an impulse to pin everything down, to reduce behavior and doctrine to absolutes that could be answered as with a true-false test. Have you noticed yourself that things don’t always seem so . . . so absolute?

C.K. Chesterton entertains us by saying”Christianity got over the difficulty of combining furious opposites, by keeping them both, and keeping them both furious.” A church (or an individual) uncomfortable with paradox tends to tilt rather inflexibly in one direction or the other, often with unfavorable consequences. It can get a little crazy sometimes, can’t it, reading what the Bible says and trying to drill down to what these words and phrases mean: The first shall be last; find your life by losing it; no achievement matters apart from love; we are saved through faith aloneby grace alone; work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you; God’s kingdom has come but not fully; enter the kingdom of heaven like a child; he who serves is greatest; where sin abounds grace abounds more; we are saved by faith alone but faith without works is dead – all these profound principles of life appear in the New Testament, and none easily reduces to logical consistency. 

Am I the only one who has had to wrestle to make sense of many truths God has prescribed for us? There is much at first glance that doesn’t prove to be quite what it seemed. In fact, sometimes we run against precepts and verses we simply don’t understand at all and these put us at the crossroads of faith and doubt. Is this where we abandon the “rational” mind and become the “non-intellectual lemmings” who follow without thinking as we are often thought of by our culture? I suppose this is where our trust is meant to kick in as we express faith in the One whose intellect vastly eclipses ours. But it seems so “non-intellectual” to ascribe to a faith obedience where we commit to believe God’s word is true, even when we don’t feel it is true. 

Sometimes we can feel a bit silly doing that. And yet as Christians we are to trust that God knows all things and knows what is best. I think we can get over that. After all, admittedly our finite minds are no match for the infinite, are they? We are instructed to “walk (live) by faith and not by sight,” (2 Cor. 5:7) even if we must at times grit our “faith teeth” to do so. This honors God greatly and does pay us a dividend. 

The tension we experience in the growing of knowing God and learning to act on his truth is the framework for the adventure we call the life of faith. In scripture as well as in practice, God’s illumination is often only for a step or two, not necessarily for the miles ahead. He keeps some things to himself and reveals and develops our understanding according to his purpose and timetable. We need to learn to relax in this! His goal is to develop a discipline of abiding in him, being truly grafted in him and being so intimately connected that we can exchange whispers. As we do, these “inconsistencies”, these “opposites”, these apparent “contradictions”, these “tensions”become seen for the truths they are meant to be and are rightly understood . . .  and ultimately enjoyable and profitable.  

Let me add one last verse to add to your confidence (or possibly confusion). From 1 Cor. 2:16 Paul says “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.” Ok, God, I believe what you say here, but I sense my appropriation of the mind of Christ is process too, right, just like my sanctification? Think About It.

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