I came across a C.S Lewis quote this week that stopped me in my tracks: "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."
For reasons I'm still puzzling out, the quote is feeding my soul. I've spent a long time now moving away from a version of Christianity I can no longer affirm in good faith — Christianity as certitude, Christianity as fundamentalism, Christianity as a rabbit's foot, securing my safety and good fortune. All the while, I've tried to find an essential core that I can still hold, and that will hold me. I wonder now if C.S Lewis's analogy is that core. What would it be like to accept Christianity, not primarily as a set of doctrinal claims, but as a lens? As a means of seeing? If my faith became my eyes, my light source, my sun, what sort of reality could I live into?
What strikes me these days as I think about Christianity is how very paradoxical a religion it is. Every facet of it, from its theology to its ethics to its holy book to its founder's own identity, is steeped in paradox. Just for fun this week, I kept a running list of the religion's seeming contradictions. The list is by no means exhaustive, but I think it's telling:
God is One, and God is Three.
God is immanent in creation, and God utterly transcends it.
Jesus is God and Jesus is human.
He's the Lion of Judah and the lamb led to slaughter.
He's the beginning and he's the end.
The Bible is God's Word, and it's a library authored by humans.
Creation is good, and creation is broken.
We bear God's image, and we carry deep flaws.
To give is to receive.
To die is to live.
To pardon is to be pardoned.
The weak are strong.
The foolish are wise.
The meek shall inherit the earth.
We see unseen things.
We find rest under a yoke.
We reign by serving.
We become great by becoming small.
Having nothing, we possess all things.
We're saved by grace through faith, and faith without works is dead.
We are in the world but not of it.
The kingdom of God is coming, and the kingdom of God is already here.
Incomplete though it is, a list like this makes it easy to see that paradox is central to Christianity. Paradox is woven right into its fabric — paradox is what gives the faith its shape, weight, and texture. At every point, Christianity calls us to hold together truths that seem bizarre, counterintuitive, and irreconcilable. Die to live. Pardon in order to be pardoned. Bless those who persecute you. And yet these seeming contradictions are what give the religion credibility and verisimilitude. If I live in a world that's chock full of contradiction, then I need a religion robust enough and complex enough to bear the weight of that messy world. I need a religion that empowers me, in Richard's Rohr's beautiful words, "to live in exquisite, terrible humility before reality."
So what does it mean to "see" by the light of paradox? I think it means training my eyes to gaze at uncertainty without flinching. I think it means teaching my soul to love the "both-and," the in-between, the mystery.
This isn't easy, especially for those of us who grew up believing that Christianity is a Twelve-Step plan, or a sure-fire formula for prosperity, or a set of holy propositions requiring intellectual assent. For me, there's real pain in letting those iterations of the religion go, because I trusted them implicitly for a long time, and clung to what they promised by way of certainty and safety. I don't think it's a coincidence that many of the heresies that have rocked orthodox Christianity over the past two thousand years have grown from an unwillingness to sit with paradox. Jesus can't be fully God and fully human, so let's choose one. God can't be immanent and transcendent at the same time, so let's highlight one and de-emphasize the other. It can't be the case that the God of all riches favors the poor and the downtrodden, so let's preach prosperity theology instead. It's not possible that a compassionate God wants us to live festive, celebratory lives in this broken world, so let's efface ourselves with austerity.
It takes courage to say instead, "Yes, this is true, but this is true also. I don't know how, but God does, and he will show me new and beautiful things if I'll venture into the tension of this both-and, and wait on him for more light, more wisdom, more truth."
My courage is still small, but so far, I like what I'm seeing by the light of Christianity's sun. I'm seeing a world where there's enough truth to go around, where there's no need to shove and jostle, no need to stick my truth in your face, or hoard it to keep myself nourished at your expense. I'm seeing a world where religion is actually complex enough and nuanced enough to meet human troubles respectfully and head-on. Not a Christianity of pat answers, but one filled with provocative questions, capable of holding deep joy and staggering pain without denying either. I'm seeing a world where contradiction isn't proof of God's absence, but suggestive of his closeness, his wisdom, and his sufficiency. After all, it's not that I hold paradox, it's that paradox holds me. I am held and braced by a God who is too big for thin, one-dimensional truth. I am held in a deep place. A mysterious place. A high place. Of course, the light is different here. It's filtered, shady, complex. It requires more from my eyes — more patience, more alertness. A longer gaze. But the view? The view is worth it. The view from this place is spectacular.