December 14, 2008

Christian Paradox

Christianity is filled with wonderful paradox. They are not contradictions (contra "against" + diction "speech") which "speak against" our faith. A paradox (para
"contrary to" + dox "expectation") goes against what we think should be, what our "common sense" tells us, but is nonetheless true.

Today's readings provide us with a few interesting paradoxes - things that seem contrary or absurd, but are really true.

When the Pharisees confront John the Baptist (Jn 1:6-8, 19-28), they ask why he baptizes. I'm sure they expect to catch him committing the sin of pride; they want to know why he thinks he's worthy to baptize. He must think he is Christ or Elijah! What is John's answer? He baptizes with water because he is *not* worthy. He tells them that he only baptizes with water because of his *humility* - quite the opposite answer from what they expected.

Paul advises the church in Thessalonia (1 Thes 5:16-24) not to quench the Spirit, not to hold back when the Holy Spirit gives a gift. He specifically mentions the gift of prophecy but refers to any gift of the Spirit - speaking in tongues, discernment, etc. Just a sentence later, he adds "test everything". Don't hold back the gifts of the Spirit, except a little bit to test them. Hold them back a little, make sure they are from God, then let them go wild. We find this so often in our Christian faith - the contradiction of the freeing restraint. The fence put just before a cliff is freeing, not restricting; by stopping one deadly act, people are more free to enjoy themselves.
Those who see Christianity as limiting misunderstand this restraint, or never had to hold a child back from running into traffic.

"contradiction." Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. 14 Dec. 2008. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/contradiction>.

"paradox." Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. 14 Dec. 2008. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/paradox>.

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