Friday, 13 January 2012
In making a point about the importance of being able to accept our differences, I mentioned her Calvinist background in contrast to my own. My remarks did not set particularly well with her. She bristled a bit. I spoke further of two or three other areas in which Holly and I would probably not see ‘eye-to-eye’ and then observed that Christ has made all of those differences, even the ones we have always considered insurmountable, to be irrelevant and of little consequence in our relationships with each other (read through Romans 14: and 15:6). Warming to the idea, Holly spoke of learning to ‘embrace ambiguity’, a concept that hadn’t really come to my mind for some time.
Yeah, I know, such a term may seem to smack of extreme existential gooblety-gook. Sound, conservative minds automatically dismiss this kind of thinking outright. Everything is either ‘right’ or it is not! A person cannot have it both ways. I think the common notion is that people who ‘embrace ambiguity’ are little more than ‘fence-straddlers’ with very little credibility or stability. I mean, how can one espouse two opposing views at the same time and still maintain that truth is an objective and attainable reality? It just doesn’t seem possible. And by the same token, it may feel as though ‘embracing ambiguity’ really has no place in a discussion where truth is not some vacillating reality subject to all sorts of fuzzy and contradictory factors. Truth is always true and never relative. I believe that.
Orthodoxy, however, demands that both Jesus’ humanity and divinity (elements that seem totally incompatible with each other) receive full acceptance as truth in the Christian community. The only acceptable answer to the question; ‘Is Jesus fully human or is he fully divine?’ is a resounding-‘Yes!’ But how are they to be melded into a cohesive whole? Various heretical philosophies early on declared these two principles at complete odds with each other--completely incompatible. The solution to this dichotomy was to simply eliminate either Jesus’ humanity or His divine nature. But this doesn’t solve the problem. Both are solidly grounded in the teaching of Scripture. From Biblical perspective, they both ‘ring true’! Scholars have spent literally years in their attempts at explaining and reconciling these two divergent realities with at best, less than satisfying results.
Perhaps the most useful tool in helping the human mind wrap itself around two conflicting thoughts that the Scriptures both support (we call them paradoxes) is analogy. Although it will never fully satisfy the intense longing of the human heart in its demand that everything be ‘nailed’ securely in place so that there can be no room for the slightest doubt, analogy seems to offer the best approach. I was reminded of a particular analogy during our visit the other day with Holly regarding the ‘embracing [of] ambiguity’:
There is at least one set of fairly straight railroad tracks running near our home (overnight guests ‘enjoy’ the loud blasts and rumbling chatter of trains from hour to hour throughout the night--we hardly ever hear them anymore). If one were to stand in the middle of the tracks and sight them to West, at the horizon it seems that the rails almost converge--that they come together. This is, of course, an optical illusion. If one were to walk those tracks all the way to the West coast, the rails would never come any closer to the other! Our collective experience and wisdom with railroad track rails is that they will never converge. It is an impossibility.
It is also true that though the humanity and divinity of Christ are both well supported truths in Scripture, they are like the rails of those tracks that seem so close to converging, but no matter how far one walks, they never do. In our experience with these two elements of Jesus’s nature, though we intuitively understand that they should be an integral part of each other--that the two must merge into one compatible reality, it seems that we are never actually able to bring them completely into alignment. There are too many divergent questions and seemingly incompatible facts that we are unable to reconcile or assimilate. How in the world is it that a human being can also be God in the flesh? We can never actually wrap our minds around all of this so that the two come together as a harmonious whole. And the longer we spend on it and the more energy we put into it, the crazier we get!
I suppose this is where Holly’s ‘embracing [the] ambiguity’ must be allowed. Choosing to live at peace in our hearts with this incongruity so that we may be able to find a measure of rest. Our best efforts will always fall just a little short of answering all of the burning questions and completely resolving every single detail involved. We find peace in our lives by learning to embrace both realities that we are convinced are absolutely true even though we may never actually discover how they fit seamlessly with each other.
I guess what intrigues me the most is that I more than suspect that the moment we leave this reality behind--the very moment we die, the ‘railroad rails’ will at last converge! They will finally come together in an unbelievably marvelous fashion. Everything that we have never been able to work through no matter how hard we’ve tried--the things that just never made any sense to us whatsoever, will at last dissolve and melt away in complete understanding. At last they will make perfect sense for; "Now we see but a poor reflection . . . ; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known" (I Corinthians 13:12). Suddenly everything will fall into place and we will finally know and wonder how it could ever have been any other way!
I am convinced in what I believe about these things (people have vehemently attempted to change my mind--unsuccessfully, I might add). I will probably die holding these same views, but anymore, I adamantly refuse to denounce or condemn the person who regards the other position as true. I refuse to insist that that person capitulate before I will recognize him/her as a precious brother or sister in Christ Jesus . I believe this would be totally inappropriate for me to do in the sight of my Lord. And so it is imperative that I fully embrace the truths that I have become convinced of, while expressing the same grace that my Lord manifested toward other people who were always less than perfect in His eyes.
‘Embracing [the] ambiguity’ may have a valid role in helping us deal with those issues that seem so completely incompatible to us. I would not be so presumptuous as to consider the following issue on equal footing with the controversy connected to the human--divine nature of Jesus discussion, but do you suppose the same kind of thinking might come close to being appropriate? (Really--I’m just wondering out loud).
The Scriptures seem to support the notion that there is tremendous security for believers (there are many passages of tremendous encouragement, teaching that the strong arm of our Lord will guarantee our place by the Father’s side). On the other side of the fence, there are passages equally abundant that warn about the possibility of "falling away". Many godly, knowledgeable and even scholarly people are at odds with each other as to which of the two positions is the ‘right’ one. I have read the passages and heard the arguments on both sides that seem to support either one side or the other--And I see both sides falling far short in establishing their pet position.
I wonder--is it at all possible that these two opposing positions--the ‘Once saved, always saved’ and the ‘Possibility of Apostasy’ doctrines may somehow occupy the same level upon which the dichotomy of Jesus’ human and divine nature rest? This just doesn’t seem right. How is it possible, or appropriate, that a person could enjoy a secure relationship with Christ and yet be confronted with warnings about the possibility of ‘falling away’? How do these two realities complement each other instead of standing in opposition to the other?
In all honesty I must admit, they are at opposite poles of a very wide spectrum. How can the two be reconciled? How is it possible that such divergent ideas as these can occupy the most extreme places in our thinking and still ring ‘true’? They can’t! Logical thinking demands that we reject one or the other outright. They have no place together. But by the same logic, either the humanity or divine nature of Jesus must be rejected outright. I don’t know-these divergent ideas seem so incompatible with each other and yet at the same time they seem to have the support of Scripture.Do you it appropriate to ‘embrace [the] ambiguity’ regarding this and other issues? Is it possible to live at peace with uncertainty, refusing to insist that every piece of reality fall perfectly and neatly into place before we can ever rest? Can we ever come to the realization that though we may be unable to resolve every incompatibility in this life, down the road, once we enter beyond ‘the veil and pale’ of death, somehow the rails will converge and we will finally understand perfectly? Perhaps the best we can do is pray for wisdom, insight and discernment that we may not fall victim to the false belief that everything is relative and every ‘cockamamy’ idea and theory that people promote must be embraced as valid. No! It must bear the objective test of Scripture.
At the same time, it might be wise for us to be very cautious about trashing an idea simply because it doesn’t fit ‘our’ template of truth or is obviously at odds with everything else that we know to be true. On the last day we may find that some of the things we have struggled tooth-n-nail against--things that have driven us crazy for years as we tried to understand how in the world they could ever fit together, have from God’s perspective, found a place among that which is holy and true. Not until then have we been able to see that they are a perfect fit as they dovetail beautifully together. The ‘rails have somehow converged’ in ways we could never ever have imagined and at last we wonder how we ever could have doubted or denied that they truly belonged together!Do you have a difficult time dealing with ambiguity? What gives you confidence in your faith when it comes to the grey areas?