Life as Paradox

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The dictionary.com definition for paradox is: 

  1. a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.
  2. a self-contradictory and false proposition.
  3. any person, thing, or situation exhibiting an apparently contradictory nature.
  4. an opinion or statement contrary to commonly accepted opinion. 

Life is a paradox. There is tension to grapple with if we are to live another day. As the definition states above, there are days when life seems, “self-contradictory” and “absurd.” It doesn’t make sense in the midst of great joy and stomach-turning sorrow. 

But are these paradoxes “exhibiting an apparently contradictory nature”? That is the question. Are they contradictory or do they only appear to be?

I write these words in the midst of a paradox. Dear friends are giving birth to a son. But, he will not be making the normal human entrance of baby-cries, and shouts of joy, from a proud father passing cigars to family and friends. Tears of joy are replaced with tears of grief, as their son died six months into the pregnancy. 

She will give birth to a dead baby. 

Across town, another group of friends are giving birth to their first child. This child a miracle of sorts after many years of failed pregnancies. Lord willing, they will watch this sweet girl live a full and healthy life. 

Life is a paradox.

Both of these couples aren’t owed healthy babies. It is a gift of grace from our Creator. Yet, tonight, one family will be grieving, preparing for a funeral, and another will be standing over the miracle of new life, and wondering if they will ever sleep again.

But, are these situations paradox, or, really how life is?

We all walk the line of great celebration and great sadness. Our daily existence filled with unspeakable joy and unrelenting sorrow. Never sure what today will bring. Never sure if today might be the day we get the call that changes everything. 

Deep in our bones we know life can feel absurd. It can seem unfair. Why does it appear the bad people are winning and the good ones are suffering? Is this fair on any level?

Unfortunately, we don’t like paradox. We struggle to live in the tension. We want the loose ends tied up, made tidy, like a newly made bed. Paradox has no room in modern culture. Everything is black and white. No gray. 

One group will deal with paradox by making everything a “cup half-full” kind of existence. Trying with all their might to keep things positive, sending up positive vibes, saying positive affirmations, no matter the situation. Usually falling on their faces and getting worn out in the process. Realizing sorrow is real no matter how hard we try to avoid it.

Others, will live with cups “half-empty,” never seeing any good in anything, or anyone. Succumbing to a world that is obviously evil, filled with incompetent people, and living an Eeyore-like existence, often in isolation. Never experiencing any kind of lasting joy in the midst of pain. 

What are we to do? Must we choose between half-full, half-empty, or something in between kind of lives?

The gospel is the only medicine for living with paradox. Bridging the tension between sorrow and joy, good and evil, depression and joy. In the gospel we don’t have to choose between sorrow and joy. We live with both. Notice the list of paradoxes in 2 Corinthians 6:3-10:

“3 We put no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; 7 by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8 through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”

“…as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing…” (9). Paul is not choosing sorrow or joy. He is not saying, “one day I will be joyful, and the next sorrowful.” 

He is saying, “right in the paradox, right in the thick of beatings, loss, suffering, and hopelessness, I will rejoice. Paul knows the world is full of paradox. He knows his life is full of paradox. But, he has hope.

Hope because of the cross and resurrection of Christ that screams, “Life does seem absurd at times. Life does seem to be filled with inconsistencies. But, I have bridged the gap. I’ve made a way for one day when paradox will be no more. Where babies will not die in the womb. When sin, death, tears, and injustice, will be a long lost memory. What seems absurd, self-contradictory, and unnecessary, is full of truth and life. I have a purpose for the paradoxes and it is wiser than you can imagine.”

We live in apparent paradoxes. But, underneath it all, God is at work, bridging the absurdities, and making things new. The paradoxes of good, evil, life, and death, are echoes of a world to come. We hate the tension...but our hearts long for home. 

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