Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Unreasonable Opposites

I have struggled, like many others, with Biblical contradictions. They made me angry, resentful and distrustful of the Bible. How could two seemingly contradictory statements both be true? It was foolishness. The theology of the cross, as a different way of thinking, rescued me from my misery. How did it do this? It started when I finally came to understand the cross itself as an eternal contradiction.

The crucifixion is the ugliest event in human history. It is also the most beautiful. It is an act of utter injustice and perfect justice at the same time. It is love and hate, victory and defeat, strength and weakness, judment and grace. And on and on. If I had a quarrel with Biblical contradiction, I would have to argue with the cross. This I was incapable of doing. Eventually my discomfort with other Biblical contradictions yielded to comfort. Paradox lost its power to confuse or upset me. This is not something I remember reasoning out for myself. No "aha" moment. It just seemed to happen the more I absorbed Luther’s Theology of the Cross. I can now see how Luther so firmly and confidently held to his unreasonable opposites - an ability which infuriated his scholastic opponents at the time and continues to marginalize him in Christianity today. If the cross is true, then I can be simultaneously sinner and saint. I can be crucified with Christ and still not dead. Jesus can be human and God. The Bible can be words of God and words of men. The Gospel can kill and bring to life. A baby can be baptized and believe. The body of Jesus can be eaten with bread, His blood received in wine. If the crucifixion of Jesus happened, many unreasonable opposites can be true because of it.

Luther never abandoned reason, as some have accused. The cross simply humbled him to the Scriptures in such a way that he was compelled to interpret all Scripture in the light of the cross. In that light he saw no need to resolve Biblical conflict. While others plodded on, he was able to admit defeat and just accept opposing truths. He did not hold them "in tension", as we like to say today. That notion, I think, would be foreign to him. He saw paradox, but seemed to see harmony, not tension. And he did not really hold to anything. The cross held him - and would not let him go. This is how he could preach that Scripture was clear, everyone should read it and anyone could understand it. This is perhaps one of his most outrageously unreasonable doctrines (one I still have a hard time believing), but it illustrates his level of confidence in the power of the Gospel over against the power of us. He certainly must have known that for most people the Bible was not clear. He put no confidence in people's ability to figure it out. He just trusted that the Gospel of the cross would do unto others that which it had done unto him.


Anonymous said...

I curious ... what's the difference between 'harmony' and 'tension'?

How are you defining those terms?

What does it mean that Luther saw harmony and not tension?

T. Hahm said...

I was using the words "harmony" and "tension" in relation to the effect Biblical paradox has on the heart and mind. Because a paradox offends human sensibilities, holding to both sides creates natural tension. The tension is the logical pressure to let go of one side or the other.

In Luther's writings he seemed not to admit to this pressure, almost as if he didn't experience it. He seemed at peace with the contradiction. That sense of peace is what I meant by the word harmony.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting that Karl Barth speaks of this paradox in terms of God's 'Almightiness',

"In Jesus Christ, God is hidden and reveals himself. That is his almightiness...He kills and makes us alive at the same time, he is merciful and he punishes...In Jesus Christ, finally, God, who is the judge, the norm of man, judges us and at the same time pardons us. Again, that is his almightiness. You see: the almightiness of God is not an abstract notion, not a power omnipotent in itself, a mad and profligte notion. But it is an action, an existence, a concrete manifestation of almightiness."

On a different note ... probably the most talked about paradox in the Vineyard is the 'already'/ 'not yet' of the kingdom. The kingdom is here and yet it is still future. The age to come has begun but the present evil age still continues. By faith we live in two ages at the same time ... this, in reality, creates tension in the Christian life ... I'm a sinner and yet a saint, I'm victorious one moment and than defeated the next, etc. One of the greatest places a Christian can come to is a place of peace or 'harmony' with this tension. We have much to learn from Luther ...

Ahh ... to be overwhelmed by the 'almightiness' of the Savior and find rest for our weary souls.