“Yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, because God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
When I was growing up, I collected useless trivia and ironic sayings. For instance, did you know there are 119 ridges on the edge of a quarter. There will probably never be an occasion you’ll need that particular bit of information, but you probably won’t forget it either. Funny how that works. Do you know what’s also funny? In English we drive on parkways and park on driveways. There are all kinds of paradoxes like that if you pay very close attention to the world around you. Do you know what probably generates more apparent paradoxes than anything else? The Christian faith. Let me explain.
Last Sunday, we had the pleasure of receiving the word from a friend of mine. During his message, he made reference to the oft-quoted-in-hard-times verse Romans 8:28. There, Paul declares that God works in all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. In other words, as followers of Jesus, we serve the God who can take something bad and make good out of it.
The ultimate example of this, of course, is the cross and the resurrection. The death of the Son of God resulted in life for the rest of the world. Death leading to life. How could that be? It is a paradox as far as the world is concerned.
Thinking about this brought my mind to something else Paul said that points even more insistently to the paradoxical nature of the Christian faith. We see that here. With God, what is weak is actually strong and what seems foolish is actually wise. The reason for this is that the values of the world and its basic understanding of how the universe was made to operate are, point-by-point, a reversal of those of the kingdom of God.
In order to find life, we turn to death. In order to find freedom, we make ourselves slaves of God. If we are to gain our life, we must be prepared to lose it. The things we reject are the very ones the world says we should embrace. As far as the world is concerned, ours is a way of paradoxes; a series of puzzles that are impossible to unlock without the guidance of the One who set them in place in the beginning.
And as I was thinking about all of this, I began reading a new book I received for my birthday called The Valley of Vision. It is a collection of prayers and devotions from the Puritans. The very first entry, intended to set the tone for what is to come, hit right at this very spot.
This trifecta of sources all pointing to the same thing suggested that this was something I needed to learn that day. Perhaps you do too. If you are one who has committed yourself to the way of Jesus, you are living a life of paradoxes. As far as the world around you understands it, the decisions you make and the things you value will be utterly backwards. And, if you allow yourself to share in that old worldview, they won’t make any sense to you either. It is only when we keep firmly before us a fresh vision of the kingdom of God that the things we do will not appear totally contradictory to how the world works both for us and for everyone around us.
With all of this in mind, allow me to start your Thursday morning with a prayer that has been around for a very long time to the God who teaches us by paradox.
Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.
Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.
Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine.
Let me find thy light in my darkness,“The Valley of Vision” from The Valley of Vision, Arthur Bennett, ed. (The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh), xxiv.
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty,
thy glory in my valley.