It’s a strange but true fact that we are often held captive by our culture. For example, in the West, we believe truth is usually black or white.
I was sitting in a lecture hall at Yale University, scratching my head, trying to decipher Dr. “Freddy” Wang’s accent. “Chinese is wery ahm-big-oo-us.” Forty of us were there to learn Mandarin, courtesy of the Air Force. NSA would then train us to spy on the Chinese mainland. Anyway, after his lecture, we were laughing at Freddy’s repeated attempts to say, “Very ambiguous.”
Years later it dawned on me. In that phrase, our professor was sharing with us the wisdom of his ancient culture. We johnny-come-lately westerners are clueless about the oriental insight into the dynamics of ambiguities such as yin and yang. Webster’s defines ambiguous as” having two or more possible meanings. In the West, we keep trying to force reality into “‘either…or,” a rather static view of the world and the Word.
English has many synonyms for ambiguous. Paradox is one. Dialectic is another. The dialectic method holds that two contrasting ideas (dualities) may be in tension with each other, to reconcile the two into one new meaning, called synthesis. In simple terms it means life is not always “either… or.” Sometimes it is “both…and. Our Christian faith has such ambiguities. Not convinced? How do you answer these questions?
- Is Jesus man or God?
- Is God one or three?
- Are we saved by God’s grace or by our faith?
- Are we going to be judged by our faith or our works?
- Is salvation a present or future reality?
- Which testament portrays God’s true nature, the Old or the New?
- Does God judge us in our sins or extend forgiveness?
Congratulations if you answered “both” to all seven. Paradoxes like these have sadly been the cause for dividing Christians for centuries. Often it’s because the western mind fails to grasp what the eastern mind does–reality is not always a one-edged thing. Sometimes it has two-edges, as we see in this passage, “God’s word is living and active, as sharp as a two-edged sword, dividing asunder soul and spirit, where joints and marrow join, for God’s word judges a person’s thoughts and intentions.” –Heb. 4:12.
Did you notice the five underlined pairs? They are dualities. I believe the inspired writer put them there purposely, to help us see truth often has two edges—two contrasting ideas in harmony with each other. This insight helps us resolve so-called discrepancies found in Scripture. It also may help us reconcile doctrinal controversies.
Consider two passages, quoted by opposing sides of one such controversy. “I have written these things that you may know you have eternal life – 1 John 5: 13. “How can those who abandon their faith be brought back to repent?”-Heb. 6:4. It’s tempting for one who is zealous for his doctrinal position, to twist a text to make it agree with his view, or to manipulate one to disprove the other. But why not let God’s Word be His Word? ”Let God be true and every man a liar– Romans 3.4. We can solve the dilemma when we hold these two truths in tension with each other. We are not forced to choose one over the other.
Once on a long car trip, I sat between two pastors. Each of them was as dogmatic as the other, heatedly arguing Calvinism vs. Arminianism, proof texting their positions from Scripture. After many miles of this, I finally spoke up. “You know, I believe you are actually both right. But is it “right” to let your doctrinal views come between you as brothers?”
Many church splits have been caused by these kinds of disputes. How sad, when the inspired Word clearly states, “Be in harmony; show love for one another; be united in spirit and agree with one mind”– Phil, 2.2. Brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus the Messiah,[o] I urge all of you to be in agreement[p] and not to have divisions among you, so that you may be perfectly united in your understanding and opinions. –I Cor. 1.10
Paul is just following Jesus when he made this fervent prayer before his passion. ”Father, may they all be one, as you and I are one…may they have such perfect unity that the world will know you sent me.”–John 17.21-23.
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