Monday, August 12, 2013

The Paradox of God

"[The Lord said,] 'Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?'"
Job 38:2

     God (the Father in particular, even more than the other parts of the Trinity) is an incredibly complex person, being and power. One that is incredibly hard to understand. Even impossible to some degree. The reason for this? God's nature and plans can be wrapped up in the idea of a paradox. A Paradox is a statement that can't logical be explained as true or false, or two things that are in apparent contradiction to each other, but coexist. For example, a common paradox is the statement; "This statement is false." By saying that the statement, we can say that the statement is true. But, if the statement is true, then it must be false. Pretty mind-boggling. Science fiction, especially when dealing with time travel, is rank with outrageous paradoxes.
      But God and His nature are not the stuff of science fiction. They are very real and important questions that need to be resolved. I am going to start off by saying, that the very nature of these questions makes them impossible to answer. These are not "either/or" questions, they are "how is this 'and'?" questions. I'm going to touch on the two biggest paradoxes. God created us in His image with free will, but ultimately has "destined us," and finally, God is repeatedly lauded for His Love, but we are warned of his continual Wrath. This might get a little messy, so hang in there.
      I'll start with the paradox of God's Love and Wrath. In Romans 17:19, we are commanded to "not avenge [ourselves], but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord." God's Wrath is so strong, that He reserves the right of vengeance for Himself. On the other hand, in Romans 5:8, we see that God's love is so great that He sent His Son to die for us, before we were redeemed from the sin that brought His wrath upon us.
     God is shown to be full of Wrath, but also of Love. How do these two seemingly contradictory traits coexist in the same being? First, the very two traits are incredibly complex, so much so that there are entire chapters devoted to explaining Love. Our understanding of Wrath is equally limited. God's Wrath has the power to destroy entire cities (Sodom and Gomorrah) and even all life on the face of the earth (the Flood). God's Love has the power to save the worst of sinners (myself for one) and sacrifice His son (who is also a part of Himself on a level I don't have time or skill to adequately explain) for creatures that actively fight against Him. These two traits seem completely contradictory, but they are both extremely important parts of God's character. How can we reconcile these 'opposing' attributes? First, God's Wrath and Love are both extensions of and influncers on His character trait of Justice. Justice is behaving in a way that is morally right. Both Wrath and Love are morally right behaviors, we deserve unrelenting punishment for our sins, but God's Love is equally right. His Love is what enables His wrath. Good parents will punish their children because they love them, in order to make them able to live good and fulfilling lives. God, the Father, is the epitome of a perfect parent. He bestows His Wrath because He Loves us, even in our sinful state.
      Now a question with bigger contention. How can we be created in God's image, and have Free Will (allowing salvation as outlined in Romans 10:9-10), but still be under the control of God's Will (Ephesians 1:5 for example)? How does God orchestrate our Freedom and His Sovereignty? I am not going to offer an answer, and I would ask that the comments not erupt into a Calvinism-Arminianism debate (for why, see an excellent post that a really good friend of mine made on the subject of that debate HERE), but I am going to offer an idea. That both are right and both are wrong. Scripture doesn't explicitly say that God wrote the history of the world before the foundations of the earth, but rather He knew it. That isn't to say that He couldn't, but rather He didn't. Indeed, we see throughout the Proverbs in particular that in order to live our lives in the best way possible, and in spite of our best intentions at times, we need or will follow God's plans. But on the other side of the token, Scripture also tells us that salvation "stands at the door and knocks." God doesn't force the door, or lock it so we can't open it to the gift of salvation. This is truly a paradox. We cannot have the freedom that we see in Scripture, while God still maintains complete omnipotence. But we do.
      How do we rectify this paradox? There is no easy answer. Philosophers and Theologians have been tearing this issue to pieces for millennia. Scripture, I believe, is as clear as our minds can comprehend it to be. My Dad did have some words of advice for me after I read John Piper's The Pleasures of God (which had two chapters on this topic, that were much less than helpful in my pursuit of understanding in this topic). He said that there are two aspects to salvation: our 'work' and acceptance and God's work and gift. While the exact balance between these are incredibly hard to figure out, he pointed out that without the gift, regardless of how influential we are in accepting it, whatever free will we have would be pointless. God's infinite grace needs to be at the forefront of any discussions on any topic, especially one so hard to understand as our role in salvation.

Leaping Lizard


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