Paradoxes of Christianity

I posted in a forum thread regarding apparent contradictions in the Scriptures. I’d been recently reading some articles by G. K. Chesterton which I thought addressed this rather well in an indirect manner, so I posted the following:

Hi,

While there are contradictions in the Bible, I also think that the contradictions of the paradoxical sort are very helpful in understanding Christianity as a whole, as G. K. Chesterton often liked to point out. Let me quote his article, “Paradoxes of Christianity“.

Paganism declared that virtue was in a balance; Christianity declared it was in a conflict: the collision of two passions apparently opposites. Of course they were not really inconsistent; but they were such that it was hard to hold simultaneously….

Christianity got over the difficulty of combining furious opposites, by keeping them both, and keeping them both furious. The Church was positive on both points. One can hardly think too little of one’s self. One can hardly think too much of one’s soul.

Take another case: the complicated question of charity, which some highly uncharitable idealists seem to think quite easy. Charity is a paradox… A sensible pagan would say that there were some people one could forgive, and some one couldn’t: a slave who stole wine could be laughed at; a slave who betrayed his benefactor could be killed, and cursed even after he was killed. In so far as the act was pardonable, the man was pardonable.

That again is rational, and even refreshing; but it is a dilution. It leaves no place for a pure horror of injustice, such as that which is a great beauty in the innocent. And it leaves no place for a mere tenderness for men as men, such as is the whole fascination of the charitable. Christianity came in here as before. It came in startlingly with a sword, and clove one thing from another. It divided the crime from the criminal. The criminal we must forgive unto seventy times seven. The crime we must not forgive at all.

It was not enough that slaves who stole wine inspired partly anger and partly kindness. We must be much more angry with theft than before, and yet much kinder to thieves than before. There was room for wrath and love to run wild. And the more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.

Christianity loves the sinners and hate the sin, exhortations both Christian celibacy and marriage, advocates both the jocularity of feasts and the solemn reverence of the Holy of Hollies. As Ecclesiastes states, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-3).

As Chesterton goes on to say, “…the more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.

Truth, then, is “catholic”: It is “according to the whole” – it is not either/or, it is both and always to their extremes (provided they are not irreconcilably contradictory and therefore a detriment to the wholeness), or something altogether transcendent; It is “universal”, in that this wholeness is kept in light of the universal experience of the Church – be it in time, be it in space – in ways Divinely ordained.

The Divine order upholds these seeming contradictions in parallel extremes, which confound our human sense of rationality, “for the foolishness of God is wiser than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25). This is what makes Christianity not only unique but uniquely believable to those who trust in God’s strength. Perhaps “contradictions” can help, rather than hinder, our Christian witness to the world.

Pax,
TTM

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