Life is filled with paradox. A paradox is a statement of truth which appears contradictory, yet is true.
God is a paradox to us. His thoughts are not our thoughts. His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). We should not be surprised if we find ourselves scratching our heads sometimes. Most Christians would feel more comfortable with “God in a box”. We like a God who is simple to understand and predictable. The God of scripture is neither, but He is dependable and faithful and good.
The Christian life is a life of paradox as well. Jesus said the first must be last, and to live we must die. And surprisingly to grow up we must become like children. The Christian life is not for the simpleton!
Paradox often leads to great pain. Those we love the most, often cause the greatest hurt. When our daughter was only a couple years old, she was a attacked by a masked man who shoved a needle in her arm while another masked man shoved a tube down her throat. These men were part of a well known gang called doctors, and they were inflicting pain to save her life from an infection which was swelling her throat shut. You could say she was rescued by a “para-docs.” This paradoxical intervention saved her life while causing great confusion and pain for our young daughter. As we handed her off to these strangers, we could see the confusion in her eyes. “Why are you abandoning me?” she appeared to say. “Don’t you love me?” her eyes cried out.
At times God has to do the same with us. I’ve heard it said, God allows what He hates to accomplish what He loves. God takes us through trials and pain and sorrow which make no sense to us and seem to contradict His love for us. “Why are you abandoning me to cancer?” we cry. “Don’t you love us enough to protect us from losing those we love?” we sob.
Jesus lived this painful paradox Himself. Hebrews 2:10 reminded us the Perfect One was perfected through suffering. Christ cried out to the Father, “Why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46). And yet, God, the rescuer, delivered Him.
We live paradox and sometimes it hurts. As I read Psalm 66 I find myself confused. On the one hand the psalmist says in verse 9
[God] has preserved our lives
and kept our feet from slipping.
I like this description because it sound like the sheltered life of a nice easy walk through a green well groomed meadow. But he immediately continues with a paradox…
10 For you, O God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.
11 You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
12 You let men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
That does not sound like preservation to me! That sounds like God abandoning His people. The problem here is with my definition of preservation in the Christian life. For me preservation is synonymous with painless. I don’t see letting “men ride over our heads” as a means of preservation. And yet I think of the “preservation process” which fruit “preserves” must go through. Often high heat, mixing and mangling are used to preserve something sweat.
The paradox of pain and preservation is magnified by my expectations and my human preferences. Yes God does some really bizarre things like letting men ride over our heads figuratively or literally. No pithy, sugary explanation can remove the pain. Life hurts, however God promises to preserve us in and through the hurts, not to preserve us from hurts. That’s a paradox because it seems so contradictory.
Psalm 66 continues with another surprise….
…but you brought us to a place of abundance.
Why didn’t God just skip directly to this part? Why not go straight to abundance? That’s the path I have laid out and the path I expect. Paradoxically the path to His abundant plan often requires the abandonment of my plan. And I don’t abandon my plan without a painful path. That’s the paradox. My prayer, “Lord lead me to abundance, but on the easy path,” is not happening in this world. This sin-stained world is filled with pain, the very tool our Master uses to remake us and mold us. And God’s definition of abundance may contradict ours…a paradox again…
Luke 12:15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Lord protect me and provide for me and use the pain of this world to redefine the abundant life for me. Open my eyes to see your blessings when they come…even as men ride over my head. Make me a “preserve” which is sweet… even if it takes mangling and mixing me under high heat to do so….I think. Oh the paradox!