For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.–Hebrews 3:4
I’ve had black and white on the brain lately.
Everywhere I look, I see black and white together. Dark and light. Absorbing and reflecting. Hot and cold. Opposites. Contrasts.
Black and white together–it is bold. Courageous. Balanced. Stunning. It takes a stand.
And it’s our new kitchen floor..
I generally believe in hardwood floors or muted rugs because I don’t think it’s a floor’s job to be noticeable.
But this is bold.
The contrast of black and white tiles laid next to each other makes this floor shout out Look. At. Me. One of my friends shook her head when I told her what we’d be doing with the floor. “If one color doesn’t look dirty,” she said, “the other will.”
Yes, it’s a worry–I’d better be able to keep it clean…
Contrasts, paradoxes, opposites–these have been on my mind lately too. Paradoxes of faith fill the Bible, and sometimes it’s hard for me to get my head around them. I just read today in Joshua 1:7–There are many other verses that tell us to keep straight on, not veering to the right or the left. (Deuteronomy 5:32; Deuteronomy 28:14; Joshua 23:6; 2 Kings 22:2; Proverbs 4:27; Isaiah 30:21 are just a few…)
Our Christian faith is filled with the enigmas of contrasts, opposites, and tension:
- The wisdom of the the world is foolishness in God’s sight; (1 Cor. 3:19)
- We are sorrowful, yet rejoicing; (2 Cor. 6:10)
- We are poor, yet rich; (2 Cor. 6:10)
- Jesus is both fully human and fully God; (Heb. 2:17)
- Jesus brings both peace and a sword of division; (Romans 5:1) (Mat. 10:34)
- Jesus is both the door, and the one who knocks; (John 10:9) (Rev. 3:20)
- We are in the world, but not of the world; (John 17:14-16)
- The kingdom is here already, but not yet; (1 John 3:2)
- We walk a narrow path, but it is open to all; (Mat. 7:13-14) (John 3:16)
- We are saved through grace and we do not have to anything for it, yet we are called to obedience through our deeds; (Ephesians 2:8-9; James 2:17)
- We are sinners, yet considered righteous in God’s eyes; (1 Tim. 1:15-16)
- We are called to care for each other (Acts 2:42-47), yet not be dependent on anyone; (1 Thes. 4:11)
- Jesus is both the cornerstone of our faith, and a stumbling block to those who don’t believe; (Ephesians 2:19-20)(1 Peter 2:6-8)
- Blessings come from struggles and wounds; (Rom. 5:3-5) and perhaps the most striking paradox of all–
- Our salvation comes from the death of an innocent man.
How do we, as people of faith, deal with all these contrasts? We can get stuck on one side or the other, veering off to the right or to the left and lose focus on what is straight ahead. In truth, the world (dare I say Satan?) wants us to veer off to the right or to the left. Even those words right and left are loaded with the world’s values, aren’t they?
And some of these “right and left” issues are fracturing the church and Christian testimony right now. Look at some of those contrasts in the list above, and think about which ones trouble you the most.
Think of it as walking on the top of a mountain (on a narrow path with no guard rails) and trying not to lose your footing. We don’t want to fall over too far on the side of social justice, yet over and over God calls us to care for the widow, the poor, the immigrant, the orphan. We need to love people and show them Christ’s love, yet at the same time we can’t ignore flagrant sins. But what about our own sins? Just because we are believers and forgiven, it doesn’t mean we are sinless. How do we show non-believers Christ’s love and forgiveness without seeming judgmental or holier-than-thou? Is that mountain path turning into a slippery slope yet?
One point to remember is that Christ’s Church will never go along with the world. God calls us to be different, to be a peculiar people. He called the Hebrews in the Old Testament to be His people and they failed spectacularly. Jesus came and called anyone who repents and believes to be part of His Church, and now we are failing spectacularly. After all, the church is made up of sinners, and even though we have the Spirit, even though we are forgiven, and even though Jesus is our cornerstone, God’s blessed Kingdom has not yet come. We are still tempted and tried by the world and its curse of sin. And so often, we fail.
BUT, if we believe the promises of God, our spectacular failures might be just the opposite. The world’s wisdom is foolishness to Him, so why should we call it failing? It might be just what God has ordained to happen. But if we trust His promises, we must also trust that He will take care of things in whatever way He chooses, whenever He chooses. When we spend too much time tilting to one side or the other, we are paying too much attention to the world and not enough to God/Jesus/the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’ life is the perfect picture of that balance: between be and do; between stillness and action; between justice and mercy. He is the one we are to emulate for He was and is the perfect man, sent from God to redeem us. Sent from God so we would know what perfection and holiness and balance really look like. Jesus is not an American conservative. Jesus is not an American liberal. To follow Jesus is to take on a radical agenda–loving your neighbor, serving others, praying for all, and gently urging everyone (including yourself) to live the holiest life we can through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
If we believe the Bible, we know that God is over all, above all, and all in all. He knows we are prone to leaning dangerously to one side or the other, rather than keeping our focus straight ahead. So we are to make peace with that tightrope, knowing that those paradoxes of our faith could well help us keep our eyes on the end rather than looking down. And if you need reassurance, then remember that even falling off that tightrope or the narrow mountain path is not fatal. The only fatal sin is thinking you can walk through that tightrope of life yourself without needing God.
No, the issues that are fracturing us are not black and white. But what we must all take to heart is His love; His redemption; His power. Written over both the black and the white, the contrasts of faith, is His love–written in His blood–written forever, no matter who we are, what we do, or how many times we fall from the narrow path. His love covers us all. He is the Lord over all the puzzling paradoxes–from the wise to the foolish, from the rich to the poor, from the believers to the non-believers–He is the Lord. He is the Door. But He knocks gently, and we are the ones who must open the door and let Him in…
For further study, read Matthew 5:1-20
Questions to think about:
- Paradoxes/Opposites abound in the Bible. Can you think of others? Which one(s) do you struggle with the most? Which one brings you the most peace?
- At least one other opposite is Jesus fulfilling the Law, yet abolishing it. Check out this article: https://carm.org/bible-difficulties/did-jesus-abolish-the-law-or-not/
- I think the Sermon on the Mount is one of the most difficult passages to take to heart. I think that sometimes it’s just easier to have cut-and-dried rules to follow instead of trying to keep your balance on a narrow path with steep cliffs on either side…. The Pharisees thought that too, and Jesus saves His harshest rebukes for them. Has American Christianity devolved into rule-keeping one one side because it is easier, and too much friendship with the world on the other side, because that’s easier too?
- I felt like a heretic writing the words that the church is failing spectacularly. Sometimes I think it is; but other times I think it is amazing that the church has endured through worse times than ours. Yet We are the church; it is not some nebulous administrative bubble somewhere in the heart of a city, so what does this say about us?
- How can we make peace with the sword of division that Jesus says He brings?