What do you read on an airplane ride? My trip to Orlando was only 2 hours, and I was not in the mood to start a new book before flooding my brain with the messages given at the TGC women’s conference. So I decided to bring Chesterton’s Orthodoxy along for the ride. His chapter on The Paradoxes of Christianity prepared me well for the messages ahead.
The theme for the conference was Here Is Our God. A huge take-away for me is that our God is one of beautiful, poetic paradox. This thread ran seamlessly through the sessions and workshops, although I don’t remember if the actual word paradox being used even used once. It certainly wasn’t the title of any of the messages. But there it was, spilling out of the mouths of each great speaker I sat under.
John Piper held Isaiah 6 and Isaiah 53 side by side, showing us how they are both quoted in John 12:37-41. Chapter 6 of Isaiah exclaims our great Lord’s majesty, and Isaiah 53 points us to the suffering servant. Our God is both, but the people rejected his majesty and his suffering. How can he be both?
Jenny Salt, in expounding from 2 Cor. 12:1-10, promoted boasting in weakness. She describes this Scripture as wonderful and painful. Referring to the thorn in Paul’s flesh, Salt pointed out how this affliction was sent from God in his sovereign will, and simultaneously a messenger from Satan. How can it be both?
The title of Session 1 given by Tim Keller was , The Terrifying and Beckoning God. He talked about God—GOD!—descending to find us, as he took us to Exodus 19. We saw from Hebrews 12:21 that God is so terrifying that even Moses trembled with fear. But Christ himself descended and was shaken so that we can live unshakable lives. Our high God, descending. Our terrifying God, beckoning. How can this be?
Paige Benton Brown took us to the temple in 1 Kings 8. As God was manifesting his unique personal presence in a cloud, he was both showing and covering his glory. In describing the mercy seat, she illustrates the gold sprinkled with blood as pointing to splendor and gore. Think about that, splendor and gore—together. Brown moves on to teach how this inhabitant God in a building condescends to become the incarnate God in a Man. In fact, all that gory blood from the altar pointed to the greater gore in Christ’s blood. And that sacrifice leads to our strangest combination yet—the indwelling God in our bodies. How can this be?
Both Kathleen Nielson and Don Carson discussed how the book of Revelation boldly pronounces that the lion is the lamb! The lion conquers by the slain lamb. Carson also pointed out the already and the not yet of our Sonship identity, perfectly reflecting God. Paradox of paradoxes!
Elyse Fitzpatrick ended her message on Counsel from the Cross with a line that she and Dennis Johnson used in their book of the same title: We are more sinful and flawed than we ever dared believe but we are also more loved and welcomed than we ever dared hope. How can our holy God know all of our wretched sin, and love us so fully? As Keller said in his talk on marriage, he didn’t love us because we were lovely; he loved us to make us lovely.
This is our God. This is the Christian life–faith and hope in a God that is both a lion and a lamb, full of highest splendor and most wretched gore; One who is unable to be contained, and yet resides in each of his beloved. He is both terrifying and welcoming. Some may be off put by these and many more of the paradoxes of our faith, of our God. And yet Chesterton described them as the key that actually fit the lock of his uneasy soul as an atheist.
In Orthodoxy, Chesterton says he noticed something “quite supreme and unique” about these many paradoxes. A “strange” thought crossed his mind, “Perhaps, after all, it is Christianity that is sane and all its critics that are mad—in various ways (83).” He takes the idea of courage for instance.
No quality has ever so much addled the brains and tangled the definitions of merely rational sages. Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die.. ‘He that will lose his life, the same shall save it…’ This paradox is the whole principle of courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if he will risk it on the precipice.
He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine (85).
The whole existence of paradox began to make a lot of sense to Chesterton. It wasn’t a contradiction, but a realness that our linear minds cannot fully grasp. He found that in Christianity there was room for the wrath over sin and the love of the sinner to run wild. He also had something to say about lions and lambs:
It is constantly assured, especially in our Tolstoyan tendencies, that when the lion lies down with the lamb the lion becomes lamb-like. But this is brutal annexation and imperialism on the part of the lamb. The real problem is—Can the lion lie down with the lamb and still retain his royal ferocity? …To discover a plan for being merciful and also severe—THAT was to anticipate a strange need of human nature (90).
Doesn’t this point us straight to the wonderful covenant of grace that our triune God made before the foundation of the world? Our God is so magnificent that his very being is paradoxical to us. But here He is in all of His splendor and gore. Beautiful poetry.