The Power of Paradox
Pastor A. W. Weckeman – July 2012
Seeing Things God’s Way
“There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.” (John 3:1-2).
Nicodemus obviously had been eyewitness to Jesus’ miracles and realized that such things could only be accomplished by the power of God (v.2). Concerned about being seen with Jesus by his peers, he comes by the cover of night (v.2).
During Nicodemus’ acknowledgment of the nature of His miracles, Jesus goes right to the heart of the matter telling him in order to see the “kingdom of God” he must “be born again” (v.3).
Nicodemus’ response reveals his total ignorance regarding the necessity of a second birth: Jesus’ startling revelation contradicted everything Nicodemus thought he knew; all his theological knowledge and wisdom were of no avail. Even after the Lord provided an explanation (vs.5-8), this highly educated religious leader could only answer, “How can these things be?” (v.9).
Nicodemus’ words tell a story…a story of how religious tradition, doctrines of men (Matt.15:6-9) and ritual gradually replaced the Scriptures, forming cataracts, rendering Israel’s leaders, and all who followed them, spiritually blind; “And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive” (Matt.13:14).
The Paradoxical Nature of Spiritual Truth
“For this people’s HEART is waxed [grown] gross [dense], and their ears are dull[insensitive] of hearing, and their eyes they have closed…” (Matt.13:15). [Emphasis mine].
It has been wisely stated: “The heart of every problem is a problem in the heart”; and so it was with Israel’s leaders. Their failure to understand, even though they saw and heard, was due to the fact that religious tradition and ritual had desensitized their hearts toward God, rendering them blind to the paradoxical nature of spiritual realities.
“He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” (John 1:11).
So great the blindness they were unable to comprehend the words of their own Messiah as He walked amongst them…the paradoxical nature of spiritual truth was beyond their grasp and became a snare to their soul. Take heed…So then, so now.
The greatest hindrance to spiritual growth is the lack of spiritual understanding and the greatest obstacle to spiritual understanding is that it is often expressed in the form of paradox. Spiritual realities are paradoxical (just the opposite of what we think).
The power of paradox is that it confounds human intellect, at the same time unveiling key truths absolutely essential to “spiritual understanding” (Col.1:9), revealing the wisdom and power of God.
The key difference between intellectual comprehension and spiritual understanding is that the latter, due to paradox, requires FAITH: That steadfast trust in God which endures beyond logic or reason. “…the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb.11:1)
“But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the DEEP THINGS OF GOD.” (1 Cor.2:10) [Emphasis mine].
Paradox is a two-edged sword; first, a laser-like scalpel to remove cataracts, opening the eyes, bringing into focus hid spiritual realities, secondly a sword to “…destroy the wisdom of the wise …bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” (1 Cor.1:19).
“That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the POWER OF GOD.” (1 Cor.2:5) [Emphasis mine].
Lifes Perplexing Questions
The Christian life is filled with contradictions “things hard to be understood.” Down through the ages, all those who chose to follow the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob experienced severe trials, tribulation, and affliction. The story of Job is one such account of the seemingly senseless suffering of a righteous man. Every believer who has faced the dilemma of inexplicable fiery trials, sooner or later, will ask, as did Job, “shew me wherefore thou contendest with me” (Job 10:2).
“How can these things be.”…how can we make sense of those trying circumstances that contradict our reality and shake our faith? How are we to comprehend and accept that which seems so senseless, situations that defy reason?
The Refiner’s Fire
The answer is found in the fact that, like gold bound in ore, comprehension of paradoxical realities requires a refining process (Mal.3:3). Therefore, “…think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” (1 Peter 4:12-13).
“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake…” (Phil.1:29). Suffering works death on the “old man”; shattering the myth of self-sufficiency. God allows tailor-made trials, difficult circumstances and situations to prove and strengthen our faith, teaching us dependency; gradually delivering us from our “own understanding”, “our own ways” and “our own hearts.”
Surrender involves the liberating wisdom of ACCEPTANCE which provides, “a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”(1 Cor.10:13).
“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto THINE OWN UNDERSTANDING” (Prov.3:5) [Emphasis mine].
“My son, attend unto MY WISDOM, and bow thine ear to MY UNDERSTANDING…” (Prov.5:1) [Emphasis mine].
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.” (Isa.55:8).
The above verses clearly state that God’s ways are not our ways, or His thoughts our thoughts; as a matter of fact His ways are more often than not, just the opposite of our ways.
Consider the paradoxical nature of the following spiritual realities:
Calvary, life from death, (John 12:24).
Surrender equals victory, (Phil.4:11).
Weakness becomes strength, (2 Cor.12:9).
Humility is power, (1Peter 5:5).
Evil is overcome by good, (Rom.12:21).
To lose your life means to save your life, (Luke 9:23-24).
Fortunate to have misfortune, (Ps 119:67, 71, 75).
God uses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, (1 Cor. 1:27).
The Contrast between Spiritual Understanding and Intellectual Understanding
There are two types of understanding, “intellectual understanding” (Prov.3:5) and “spiritual understanding” (Col.1:9). There are also two types of knowledge. As we learned earlier, spiritual realities are paradoxical (just the opposite of what we think); therefore many times; as was the case with Nicodemus, what we think we know just isn’t so.
Have you ever assumed that you knew the meaning of a verse of scripture only to later find that, in reality, you didn’t truly understand? Suddenly you discover that your mental comprehension is inadequate: herein lies the subtle danger of equating intellectual knowledge with spiritual understanding.
In the eyes of the unsaved world: “Knowledge is power” Sir Francis Bacon. The flesh seeks knowledge, even spiritual knowledge to empower and exalt itself. The desire to know, so as to be known; self-centered motive (Prov.18:1-2).
While it is true (in a sense) that perception defines reality; regarding spiritual truth human perception derived from intellectual knowledge is wholly inadequate to answer the perplexities and mysteries of spiritual realities.
“Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” (1Cor.10:12).
“Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become as fool, that he may be wise.” (1Cor.3:18).
“…Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.” (1 Cor. 8:2).
Also, (Rom.12:3, 1 Cor. 14:37, 2Cor. 3:5, Gal.6:3).
Storing up knowledge about God in our minds doesn’t necessarily translate into having more of God in our hearts and lives. Spiritual realities are not comprehended by human intellect; not aptitude but heart attitude. In reality, if you or I know anything about the Bible it’s only because God has revealed it to us!
“Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven…” (Matt.16:17).
Consider, (Acts 4:13) “…they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.”
Our knowledge can’t transform us; only God can do that. It’s not that I know the Bible…it’s that the Bible knows me. The word of God, “…is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Heb.4:12). Anyone who boasts of “their Bible knowledge” is revealing the fact that they know nothing!
One of the greatest pitfalls regarding the study of God’s word is found in the fact that you can know the Book and not the Author, “…God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5). The power of paradox is a built in bear trap for all who come to the Bible with a haughty heart…without a “love of the truth”, it will spring shut.
“And for this cause GOD shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie…” (2 Thess.2:11) [Emphasis mine].
Another sure way to trip and break your spiritual neck is to approach the word of God with a preconceived notion or personal opinion seeking Scripture to line up with your thoughts or religious beliefs on a subject. The important thing about knowledge is how it is used.
All of the above reveal the pitfalls and vulnerabilities entangling many so-called “Christian scholars”, intellectuals and professional theologians. “The more things a man seeks to master, the more mistakes he is going to make.”
Self-deception is the fruit of pride; the source of spiritual blindness. Pride produces men of high self-esteem; contemporary Pharisees and Sadducees who are ignorant of the truth found in (1 Cor.1:25-29). The recognized “spiritual authorities” who have fallen into the same trap as their secular cousins, believing that THEIR “knowledge is power,” unable to discern the power of paradox, which opens the eyes to distinguish between “intellectual knowledge” and “spiritual understanding.”
Who do you suppose would be more susceptible to pride (Obadiah 1:3) the common man or the intellectual? Humility is not exactly the hallmark of higher learning. It is my observation (66 yrs.) that intellectual types quite naturally tend to pride & elevate themselves in their knowledge and learning. The people I most admire are those rare individuals who manage to remain humble in spite of their gifts…spiritual or intellectual.