Thursday, March 28, 2013

Minds in Tension

Recently, a couple of twitter followers of mine had a debate. (Dan, aka blitzer613, won btw.)

After the debate I was reflecting about how uncomfortable some Christians (not Dan, to be clear) are with the concept of mystery. You see, we hate tension in our thoughts. We all prefer for our thoughts to fit in tidy, easily identified boxes. Democrat or Republican. Calvinism or Arminianism. Covenant Theology or Dispensationalism.  Live by grace or do good works, not both. 

We are all natural fans of false dichotomy: simplify everything down into only two choices and force everyone to pick one side or the other. Life is simpler that way, because you are either "one of us" or "one of them." It is a wonderfully efficient way to discriminate against people who have slight differences from you. 

Because the opposite approach, which leaves the tension in your mind, is much less comfortable.  To admit that you cannot explain exactly how something works is an admission of humility and limitation--two things which our society abhors.

Reality is rarely simple. If you think it is, then you haven't spent enough time with physicists to understand what you are really seeing. Reality is sometimes messy and chaotic and unclear. Some things are unexplained, and others are unexplainable. 

Our faith is no different: it too is full of mystery and intellectual tension. Of COURSE it is...otherwise it would be some nice clean system that man made up and crossed every t and dotted every i. No, God is far greater than we can comprehend, which means that some of our theology is going to have fuzzy edges, much less clear and straight than we would like. There will be tension and mystery.

Now do not misunderstand: I am not arguing for some sort of moral relativism. Some people take the tension of competing theological thoughts and say that we should therefore ignore both. I say the opposite: if God tells you two seemingly different things, then embrace both, rather than choosing just one or ignoring both. For example, we are told that we are saved by faith alone...and that we are to do good works.

Some people, fearing this tension, therefore hammer only the drum of grace don't worry much about their behavior. Others hammer the drum of works and do great things in God's name, believing that they earn their way into heaven by it. Both of these are examples of burglary: the first robs from God by stealing the glory of a faithful disciple from Him; the second robs from the individual by stealing his chance at inheriting eternal life. 

The truth is a mystery. It is a tension in our minds. It requires faith to accept this seemingly contradictory truth: that God does not need our works and does not make them a condition of salvation, but still demands that we do them.

That is a hard mystery for some. But the mysterious nature of our faith does not make it untrue: rather the opposite, in fact. Do not fall for the trap of forcing your faith into a pre-molded box: such man-made prisons cannot hold the glorious reality of the Living God.

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