Paradox – Paradigm – Paraclete
“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him but also to suffer for His sake.” Philippians 1:29
Have you ever heard something that, in your lobe of reasoning, you knew couldn’t be true? For example, perhaps your parents preceded a disciplinary act with the statement, “This is going to hurt us more than it hurts you.” Or, maybe you’ve been told, “It may not feel like it now, but in the long run this decision is for your own good.” We’ve all experienced situations in which we only saw one side of the proverbial two-sided coin…and it was definitely the tail and not the head. It wasn’t what we wanted. It wasn’t what we expected. It wasn’t what we prayed for. But there it stood, and it seemed impossible to move around it, over it, or through it. It was a paradox, and we felt paralyzed in the face of such a parapet. (By the way, this writing is being brought to you by the letter P. It was a toss-up between P and Q, as I was minding them both, and P prevailed. It’s a very persistent and persuasive letter! Q never stood a chance…just stood there quivering and quaking.)
While paradoxes are prevalent in everyone’s life, they are especially pronounced in the life a Christian. And why shouldn’t they be? After all, they are prolific within the paragraphs of Scripture. While Jesus was a pro at offering up a parable for His listeners to chew on, He was equally adept at producing a paradox for the same purpose. Just think about some of the seemingly illogical instructions He presented to those who pondered following him:
- “He who wishes to be first, must be last.” (Matt. 20:16)
- “My power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
- “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)
- “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword…Whoever finds their life will lose it and whoever loses their life for My sake will find it.” (Matt. 10:34,39)
- And finally, for those who are still standing in the “I’ll Follow You, Lord” line, here’s a final punch…”For it has been granted to you…to not only believe, but to suffer…”
What kind of reasoning is this? Every one of these statements presents opposing views within itself. The last one to cross the finish line wins the Golden Sneaker medal, the weakest contestant wins the Strong Man trophy, the dead seed takes home the Most Fruitful award, and the one who wants to serve must also be prepared to suffer. Illogical remarks? Contradictory instructions? Heads and Tails…at the same time? In a word…in God’s Word…they are simply a paradox: statements with seemingly illogical conclusions. But remember, for now, we only see in part. When we see God face to face, then we’ll see the whole (1 Cor. 13:12) and the paradox will be fully seen in the light of paradise. But, until then, we’ll need a new paradigm.
Paradigms, as the road maps for decision-making, tend to get stuffed into compartments until the paramount moment when the precipice is reached…and the needed directions are not only precautionary…they are pertinent! A paradigm is a pattern we tend to follow either because it represents a path we’ve taken before or it’s one we’ve watched others traverse. Either way, we follow it because we think we know where it will lead us. But, when we encounter a paradox and we don’t know which way to go, our tried and true GPS (Global Paradigm System) simply won’t do! In these situations, we need to expect the unexpected…and those pathways can be hard to navigate. How do you go right by turning left? How does the downward slope lead you to the uphill observatory? When it comes to paradoxes, you find that you literally “can’t get there from here”! At such times, however, we do have a map, a paradigm, to follow…and His name is Jesus Christ.
Jesus caused quite a few paradigm shifts in His day. He did it as a baby when angels heralded the birth of a King… in a manger. He did it as an adolescent when the Word of God studied the words of God with the temple teachers. He did it at Jacob’s well in Samaria when He said He was the living water. And, He did it near the end of His earthly ministry when He, the Son of God, washed the feet of the sons of men. Everything about Jesus, from God’s announcement of His birth to His pronouncement of His death, caused a paradigm shift in the minds of those around Him. The coming Messiah…in a manager; the Word made flesh…studying the scrolls; the Creator of man…washing His creations’ feet. Who expected any of that? Who would have expected such unexpectedness? But therein lies our pattern; therein lies the template we are to place over our lives so that we may trim away what lies outside its borders. Jesus, Himself, is a paradox that demands a paradigm adjustment. He is fully God yet fully Man; He is the Sinless One who died for sinful man; He is Omniscient yet unable to say when He will return (Matt. 24:36). Jesus is a paradox; but He left us with a pattern to follow so that, by it, we could realign our thinking, reconstruct our mindset, and recalculate our direction. When we don’t know which way to turn, we can always examine the life of Jesus and follow the pattern He outlined for us.
But we all know there is a gap between knowing and doing. Actually, it’s more like a gorge than a gap! We all too often know the right thing to do and yet do not do it (and yes, to him who does not do this, it is sin; James 4:17). So, if we struggle under normal circumstances, what do we do when we encounter paradoxical pitfalls? We update our GPS and exchange our Global Paradigm System for God’s Paraclete Service.
In Greek, paraclete means advocate or helper; in the New Testament it is the name given to the Holy Spirit who is our Helper and the One who comes alongside us…and dwells within us. The Holy Spirit, as our Paraclete, also serves as our Great Connector. He takes what appears to be contradictory situations and merges them so that they are now conjoined through Him. For example, when Nicodemus asked Jesus about salvation, Jesus told him one must be born again in order to enter the kingdom of God. Nicodemus was stunned; how could one be born again? Jesus presented him with a paradox that Nicodemus’ present paradigm couldn’t compute…his current GPS couldn’t calculate this route. In his own way, Nicodemus asked Jesus, “How do I get there from here?” To which Jesus replied (and I paraphrase), “You can’t get there without a Driver…but the Spirit…He can take you.” And in that illustration, Jesus let it be known that, in Him, even a paradox comes full circle.
Paradoxes, paradigms, and paracletes; one perplexes us, one patterns us, and one positions us. We can plan on plunging into the unplanned; we can set our mind on knowing we’ll have to reset our mindset; and we can calculate that wherever we’re going…we’re not going to get there from here! But, as children who are never to be tossed to and fro, we do have our paradigm shifter in the person of Jesus Christ and we do have our paraclete positioner in the power of the Holy Spirit…and there’s nothing paradoxical about that!