I had a boss one time who nicknamed me The Renaissance Man. No sooner had I inhaled his verbal, ego-boosting dose of adrenaline did he teasingly add, “That’s because I never knew anyone from Georgia Tech who could write a sentence, much less a paragraph.”
To him, I was a walking, talking, writing paradox.
I confess. I have always considered myself a logical, analytical, orderly, linear-minded, math-loving, fact-based, left-brain oriented thinker. But being human means I am also made in the image of God and therefore possess, as all humans do, a creative, imaginative, emotional side to my spirit. In other words, what my joking VP had observed was not some cognitive anomaly of one of his Directors, but rather an engineering major who could tap into the right-side of his brain. Apparently, from his perspective, that was an uncommon occurrence. Yet, I believe being a creative writer and a Georgia Tech engineering graduate is not a contradiction, oxymoron, or a paradox but rather a Humanum de Multi Ingenium! Then again, I often wondered if a Vice-President (my boss) who hailed from Kentucky was himself a bluegrass version of an oxymoron. Just kidding, Hal. Sort of.
Let’s agree that life without paradoxes is like a taco without jalapeños, just bland. G.K. Chesterton once described a paradox as “truth standing on its head to gain attention.”
Speaking of Chesterton…
One of my favorite writers is Jill Carattini, Managing Editor of RZIM’s A Slice of Infinity. In one of her commentaries about Chesterton, titled, The Prince of Paradox, she writes,
“In his disarming manner, such that even his opponents regarded him with affection, Chesterton exposed the inconsistencies of the modern mindset, the unfounded and unnoticed dogmatism of the unbeliever, and the misguided guidance of the cults of comfort and progress. He marveled that religious liberty now meant that we were no longer allowed to mention the subject, and that “there are those who hate Christianity and call their hatred an all-embracing love for all religions.” To the convicted agnostic he said, “We don’t know enough about the unknown to know that it is unknowable.” To the social Darwinist he said, “It is absurd for the Evolutionist to complain that it is unthinkable for an admittedly unthinkable God to make everything out of nothing, and then pretend that it is more thinkable that nothing should turn itself into everything.” (1)
Alas, I digress. Chesterton, the Prince of Paradox, has that effect.
I awoke one recent morning overwhelmed with how life is indeed filled with paradoxes and how finding meaning, purpose, and even contentment in life is only achieved when one embraces those paradoxes. Of what do I speak? Here are a few to contemplate.
- One can walk in the darkness of night while walking in the Light. (1 John 1:7)
- One can walk through the valley of death while fearing no evil. (Psalm 23)
- One can be in the midst of chaos and heartache while possessing a peace that defies description. (Philippians 4:7)
- Endurance only comes through adversity. (James 1: 2-3)
- We save our lives only by losing them. (Luke 9:24-25)
- There is a greater blessing in giving than in receiving. (Acts 20:35)
- We find true strength only in weakness. (2 Corinthians. 12:9)
- Greatness is found in becoming a servant. (Mark 10:43)
- The ultimate paradox: To live is Christ, to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)
The earthly mind considers such platitudes as wishful thinking at best or counter-intuitive foolishness at worst. Then again, maybe these paradoxes are just fundamental truths doing a handstand? God declares in Isaiah 55:8 that, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
In 1889, Henry Clay Turnbull wrote in his book Practical Paradoxes,
“The law of the Christian life is a paradox. It is made up of seeming contradictions. All its teachings are contrary to the common opinions of man. According to this law, giving is getting; scattering is gaining; holding is losing; having nothing is possessing all things; dying is living. It is he who is weak who is strong… Happiness is found when it is no longer sought; the clearest sight is of the invisible; (and) things which are not bring to naught things which are.” (2)
For me, there is no greater list of paradoxes than that which Jesus shared in Matthew 5, The Beatitudes are nothing but a list of the great paradoxes of life. Jesus said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth….” Well, you get the idea.
I guess sometimes the truth has to stand on its head to get our attention. Amazingly, even a Renaissance Man from Georgia Tech can figure that one out.
(1) Jill Carattini, RZIM, SLICE of Infinity, The Prince of Paradox, https://www.rzim.org/read/a-slice-of-infinity/prince-of-paradox
(2) Henry Clay Trumbull, Practical Paradoxes (Philadelphia: John D. Wattles, 1889), 9.