When I first became a Christian I was excited about God, the Bible, and the church. I made sure I told everyone about all three. A few weeks into this evangelistic crusade I was at my brother’s house and talked to his friend Eddie. After a few minutes of ‘God talk’, Eddie asked me, “Can God make a rock too heavy for Him to lift?” At first, I assumed Eddie meant this metaphorically and was talking about a world so out of control that God could no longer manage it. But I overrated Eddie. He was really talking about a rock. Over the past few decades I’ve learned, or at least think I have learned, to appreciate the paradoxes, contradictions, and ironies about God and the Christian faith. When dealing with truth we should expect complexity, be suspicious of tidy solutions, and anticipate a few puzzlers. Here are some puzzlers:
- God is simultaneously present and absent. He is separate from us, He indwells us, and He is everywhere. But we can search for Him and not find Him.
- God’s knows, designed, and controls the future. But if we can affect the future by our actions and prayers, is the future is already determined? Or is it filled with possibilities and alternatives?
- Does God live within time, outside of time, or both? If He lives within time, is He also subject to sequence? If He lives outside of time can our prayers and actions also change the past?
- Jesus couldn’t sin. Yet He was tempted with the real possibility that He could sin. And why did He have to learn obedience?
- God doesn’t change His mind. But the Bible says He does once in awhile. Did God change His mind about changing His mind?
- God seems pleased when I exercise my freedom. But, God also seems to have plan for my life and “calls” me to follow Him and live out His plans in detail.
- God blesses my obedience. And I have to live with the consequences of my disobedience. But I also live by grace since I cannot earn God’s blessing. I must also live by God’s mercy because I keep screwing things up. Am I also blessed in my disobedience?
- We are predestined. But we must choose the “narrow way”. Then we lose our way. Was this also predestined?
- In the book of Revelation all sorts of bad people are thrown into the lake of fire. A chapter later they’re outside the city. How did they get there? Then they seem to get an invitation: “Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift”.
- Churches are comical. Yet they’re critical to our spiritual growth. When we take church too seriously, it becomes absurd and sometimes dangerous. If we don’t take church seriously enough, we stunt our spiritual growth and damage our souls.
- God seems to have created a friendly universe that cooperates and aligns with my intentions and interests. If I look for a cardinal, a yellow car, or an opportunity — I find one. I guess I’m lucky!
- Yet there are many tragedies in the world. And a lot of people are unlucky.
The Interior Castle (our soul) is a puzzler. Teresa says, “I seem rather to be talking nonsense, for, if this castle is the soul, there can clearly be no question of our entering it. For we ourselves are the castle: and it would be absurd to tell someone to enter a room when he was in it already! But you must understand that there are many ways of ‘being’ in a place. Many souls remain in the outer court of the castle . . . they are not interested in entering it, and have no idea what there is in that wonderful place, or who dwells in it, or even how many rooms it has. You will have read certain books on prayer which advise the soul to enter within itself: and that is exactly what this means.” How can we enter a room we’re already in? How can be outside a room if we’re still inside? The realm of the “Spirit” requires us to work with contradictions, ironies, paradoxes, and possibilities that are beyond our comprehension. Teresa says, Oh, my powerful God, how great are Thy secrets, and how different are spiritual things from any that can be seen or understood here below. In the Sixth Mansions, Teresa says, “For it seems a contradiction that the Beloved would give the soul clear understanding that he is with it and yet make it think that he is calling it by a sign so certain that no room is left for doubt and a whisper so penetrating that the soul cannot help but hear it. For it seems that when the Spouse, who is in the seventh dwelling place, communicates in this manner (for words are not spoken), all the people in the other dwelling places keep still; neither the senses, nor the imagination, nor the faculties stir.” (Translation: Kavanaugh and Rodriguez) How does the “voice of heaven” call us from within? How does He speak so clearly without words? How can we listen to something we cannot hear? How does He quiet our internal interference? All this is part of the interior journey in which we are united with the “Spouse” who is “seated at the right hand of Power”.