"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

09 January 2006

Paradoxes Again

My last post got me thinking about paradoxes, and circumstances have brought to the fore another couple that have caused me much struggle through the past many years. I know what the Scriptures say about these issues, I think, and I take certain intellectual stands -- by faith -- that get me through the day, and I am not going to question God’s love for us or His acting in our lives over my confusion. I think I know how to live with paradox, generally speaking, but some paradoxes are more frustrating than others, the ones, of course, that directly challenge my own comfort.

I know that God is sovereign. Scripture is quite clear on this point. Our Sunday School teacher quoted someone yesterday: “history unfolds according to His plan.” Okay, I accept that. I think. Intellectually, at least, by faith in the Word, I know it to be true.

My problem with it is simple: it appears to mean that sin, through which He often accomplishes certain things, is therefore part of His plan, which of course begs the question: why then is it sin, and why do we need to struggle so against it?

One definition of sin is not living in accordance with God’s law, acting against the standards by which He clearly says we should act. This is a bad thing. I should strive not to sin, because I wish to please and obey Him, who gave His Son that I might live.

But if “history unfolds according to His plan,” and sinful acts are used to accomplish that plan (and He doesn’t have a “plan B,” as the Sunday School teacher remarked, because He isn’t surprised at anything that happens), then . . . well . . . then . . . isn’t sin part of His plan?

But it can’t be, because He is sinless and He commands us to strive for sinlessness also.

To be less abstract: Say I yell at my son in anger. That is sin. One can point to the potential for my son to grow in character through my sin as he learns to respond in a godly manner to people who are unkind, etc. So my sin has given God a chance to grow my son in character, which is a good thing. (And I experience grace, through my repentance, which is also good, except Paul has dealt quite clearly with that in Romans, chapter 6 or thereabouts, I believe.)

But my sin is a bad thing. It has to be. It hurts both me and my son, me because I become less Christ-like every time I disobey Him, and my son because it violates his mind, heart, and soul, and also opens the option to him of bitterness instead of maturity in his response. And of course all sin is an affront to a righteous God whose Son died to save me from it.

So: how does man’s chosen sinful disobedience work into God’s sovereignty?

I presume it’s bound up in the concept of free will (which I don’t understand, either, when I think of the paradox of free will and election), and that He "uses," as we often say, bad to accomplish good. (That’s in Romans, too, of course.) But then I think of Pharaoh and his God-hardened heart, and those verses that say God creates the wicked for their time and His purpose, and . . . well, it all gets very mixed up.

And of course, the real mix-up for self-centered me is simply this: when someone else’s sin affects my life negatively, how do I say, “oh, it’s all right, it’s God’s will that I should suffer this”? It seems to me that it is very much the other person’s will that I suffer it, not God’s. And that God having to use the consequences of sin is very inefficient. Necessary, I do understand, because it’s a fallen world and He chooses to leave us the will to choose. But still . . . if somebody hadn’t eaten a certain fruit, would God will that I suffer? No, His purposes would be accomplished in perfection. (And please don’t get me started on the Fortunate Fall idea, though I may address it another day.)

And all of this leads me to that other perennial paradox: if “history unfolds according to His plan,” whether I sin or not, no matter what I do, then why bother to pray, either?

Yes, yes, I know we are commanded to pray, and I do. But if my yelling at my son accomplishes good, helps to bring about His plan, why pray to stop doing it? Well, because it’s sin . . . and I’m back at the beginning.

Prayer is the hardest of the disciplines for me. Not because I actually think we shouldn’t pray against sin (in ourselves or in others), but because I really don’t know how to approach God about anything really important, sinful behavior or ill health or whatever it be. What does one pray for when one sees loved ones hurting? If it will accomplish God’s plan for this person to die, or this person to go through a divorce, or that person to be handicapped, or . . . well, you get the idea.

Some days I am merely a bundle of confusions. But thank God, He doesn’t stop loving me because of it. I probably need to read Job again, because the “answer” God gave Job is the one I think He keeps offering me. Some days I am able to cling to it. Other days, like this one, I can’t see it. But He’ll bring me where He wants me, eventually. I just wish I could find it in me to make it easier for both of us.


josh said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one...

alaiyo said...

You and I are more alike than you know, son . . . that's not always a good thing, but in this way it is - we're both survivors.

I love you!


Fieldfleur said...

I'm sorry that your tension causes you frustration, confusion, pain, and lack of faith. However, it does me good to see that you also hold on tight to something during times of being buffeted by paradox and doubt. The swirls of all of this reminds me of the elements to grasp.

Megan said...

I've never understood the whole "perfect will", "permissive will," etc, thing... sometimes I wonder if perhaps we should STOP trying to understand spiritual things which we find unsurmountably mysterious and troubling, and just TRUST...but then, aren't we supposed to seek to know the God who loves us? Maybe it's all bound up in the difference between KNOWING God and UNDERSTANDING Him. Thanks for your thoughts on prayer. I'm glad I am in company when it comes to often being confused about prayer's innerworkings.