Theologian D.M. Baillie explores the notion of paradox as essential to understanding the Christian faith. In stark contrast to the popular belief that there is only one way to see the Christian faith, Baillie suggests that it is better understood by understanding and accepting both “extremes” of thought about what God was doing in and through Jesus. He explores the notion of Jesus’ humanity, with particular focus on the tensions between Jesus’ humanity and his divinity. Rather than try to reconcile these two notions, Baillie suggests that we accept them as paradox. To accept one without the other would radically transform our understanding of God. To find a middle ground would diminish its force.
In exploring the biblical teachings about hell, heaven, and the broader notions of life after death, holding on to this notion of paradox helps us to maintain some of the tensions and mystery which is present in the teachings of scripture. For example, one of the problems with removing heaven to an idea of something which happens after we die is to suggest that it is always beyond our reach: an unattainable ideal in this life, something which stands in contrast to Jesus’ assertion that ‘the kingdom of heaven has come upon you,’ (Mt 12:28), and his use of common imagery to depict the kingdom at work. And yet at the same time, we hear the recurring reminder that there is something more, something which is beyond our reach, that which is ‘to come’; something beyond attaining in this life, a future kingdom too beautiful to describe, of which we can only attain glimpses.
The Christian faith, and the teachings of Jesus, hold these two tensions simultaneously: that following Jesus makes a difference in this life, bringing justice, mercy and peace through a daily walk with Jesus: transforming life in the here and now. And at the same time it speaks of a future where God’s reign is established, where sin and suffering is no more, and where all creation is reconciled. The way in which we live and act is both to foreshadow this glorious future, and establish a foretaste for all.
on this basis that we are able to affirm that God is present in the midst
of life, able to be known and loved, and lived in relationship to day by
day, and at the same time affirm that we are looking forward to a time
when we will be in the presence of God forever.
It is the basis for prayer: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” So may we live this paradox.
November 20, 2005