Why We Don’t Need to Fear the Paradoxes of Our Faith: Summer Reading Series
“If we never experience conflict in our relationship with God, the chances are we have replaced the real God with a substitute god made in our image.”
Have you ever felt guilty, foolish, or ashamed because you had doubts and questions about God? Have you ever been afraid to ask those questions because you didn’t want your friends—who you’re positive are all put-together, with-it Bible experts—to know that you didn’t have the answers?
Of course you have. We all have. But I have good news: God has never been ashamed of your wrestling. If anything, he’s proud of you for it. Let’s look at why.
Christianity Is Hard
If you grew up in church, my story may sound pretty familiar. As a kid, all I learned about God was that he loved me and wanted me to be a good boy. As I approached my teens, I started to learn that God would answer my prayers and help me with my troubles, as well as help me stop sinning—right as I discovered that I really, really enjoyed certain kinds of sinning. In high school, God kind of became a weird uncle that I never disowned but usually avoided mentioning around my friends. And then in college, I actually met Jesus. It was then that, like Saul after Ananias came to visit, the blinders fell away and I saw that most of the versions of God I’d heard about as a kid weren’t God.
At last I had realized perhaps the most important truth about my faith: Christianity is hard. And then, some years later, I hit upon an equally transforming realization: It’s hard on purpose—and that’s great news!
I’d love to tell you even more about how that blew my mind, but instead I’m here to tell you how you can have your own mind blown, by a much better writer than me.
I was in love with Paradoxology: Why Christianity Was Never Meant to Be Simplebefore I’d even finished the introduction. In a few simple sentences, author Krish Kandiah not only reassures us that it’s okay to have questions, but he also hints at a deeper truth: it’s important to have questions.
Facing up to hard questions about God can be disconcerting. Believers may feel we are letting the side down if we dare to admit we still have questions. Perhaps we fear that in admitting to unresolved questions in our faith, we might lead other people into doubt and destabilize, or even destroy, their faith. Often we are taught—or at least we pick up by osmosis—that Christian maturity means giving confident, slick answers without a hint of uncertainty. But this is simply wrong. False assurance is no assurance at all, and taking time to tackle the difficult passages of the Bible head on may in fact be exactly what we need to help strengthen and life-proof our faith. If what we believe is true, it will stand up to questioning.
In Paradoxology, Kandiah takes this idea of embracing questions seriously by looking at 13 themes from Scripture that seem, on the surface, to be paradoxes we can’t resolve. Most importantly, he doesn’t just offer some clever mental gymnastics to make the paradox go away. Instead, he invites us to embrace the beauty of a God who’s big enough, wise enough, and creative enough to stretch our powers of reasoning and exercise our faith.
If you’re uncomfortable with the message some folks present that God is just a nice idea to make us feel safe and comfortable, you’ll appreciate the Abraham Paradox, which opens the book and highlights how, alongside the Bible’s many promises to bless and reward us, it’s chock-full of God asking his chosen servants to do crazy, powerful things they can only do with his help. It’s only when they step out in faith that his blessing is assured.
If you’re uncomfortable with a simplified theology that says “God has a plan for everything” and ignores the pain and suffering in the world, the Job Paradox is for you. Kandiah challenges both the idea that suffering should be dismissed as “part of the plan” and the idea that suffering means God is either powerless or heartless. Instead, we can use Job’s story to help put painful trials into context and perspective.
Have you ever been surprised by God? Have you ever struggled with following a God who’s unpredictable, and with followers who want to try to make him more predictable? Read the Habakkuk Paradox, my friend. Habakkuk’s story will help you think about how God’s answers to prayer rarely take the form of giving us exactly what we ask for. It challenges the idea that God is small enough to be wrapped up in a neat little package.
Sometimes we feel God is right with us, cheering us on and blessing us, but often we don’t. The Esther Paradox unfolds the story of a queen who is both used and blessed by God in a crucial time in Jewish history—and God is neither quoted nor even mentioned in the entire story. Through this illustration and other helpful references, the paradox helps us understand how to be faithful to a God who seems like he’s not picking up the phone.
Never Stop Wrestling
Remember how I said that God would actually be proud of you for wrestling with difficult questions? That’s not an exaggeration. In the Habakkuk Paradox, Kandiah highlights how much wrestling with God is a recurring theme for biblical figures. “Abraham, Moses, David, Job, Hosea, and now Habakkuk . . . speak candidly with God; they argue their case as they struggle with the Almighty’s precepts,” he explains. Kandiah also reminds us of Jacob, who literally wrestles with God in Genesis 32.
What’s the other thing these followers of God all had in common? God used them for great things, made them central figures in his Word, and praised and blessed them. Importantly, as Paradoxology helps us remember, many of these blessings did not come until after they had lived lives of sacrifice, risk, and trust. But without fail, the followers who have the courage to believe God when he says, “Trust me,” always, always find that their trust is rewarded.
So here are my two challenges to you: First, never stop asking God questions and trusting him to be proud of you for taking your faith seriously enough to examine it. Second, never stop trusting God in the midst of those questions. He has an answer. It’s probably a hard answer. It’s probably an answer that will challenge you. But it’s definitely the answer you need.
I’m taking these challenges. Will you join me?
Image by twentyonehundred productions team member Jono Gay.