The doctrines of the Christian faith are full of paradox. It is a reality that we sometimes forget – our familiarity can make us deaf to its jarring sounds:
A virgin is a mother.
Death is defeated by death.
He who seeks to save his life will lose it.
He who loses his life for my sake will save it.
I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live.
Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.
Paradox is more than an occasional theological statement – it points to the very heart of our salvation. The commandments that we have been given by Christ call us to a life of paradox. Anyone who seeks to love will quickly face the dilemma of paradox. How do I love someone who fails me – who is less than perfect – who is not the fulfillment of my every wish? To love is to lose ourselves for the sake of the beloved.
To forgive also presents us with a paradox, for we are not commanded to limit our forgiveness to those who deserve it, or to those who ask for it, but to extend it to all. We are commanded to love our enemy – in effect, to love those who are unloveable.
It is the same paradox that marks the mystery of the love of God.
St. Ephrem the Syrian offers this observation in his Hymn on the Nativity (11:6-8)
Thy mother is a cause for wonder: the Lord entered her
and became a servant; He who is the Word entered
– and became silent within her; thunder entered her
– and made no sound; there entered the Shepherd of all,
and in her He became the Lamb, bleating as He came forth.
Thy mother’s womb has reversed the roles:
the Establisher of all entered in His richness,
but came forth poor; the Exalted One entered her,
but came forth meek; the Splendrous One entered her,
but came forth having put on a lowly hue.
The Mighty One entered, and put on insecurity
from her womb; the Provisioner of all entered
– and experienced hunger; He who gives drink to all entered
– and experienced thrist: naked and stripped
there came forth from her He who clothes all.
Paradox makes for rich theological reflection – but as illustrated in St. Ephrem’s writings, it is also the way of our salvation. It is the way of our daily life (the path of our salvation). We cannot love if we refuse its paradox. We cannot forgive if we deny its reality. We cannot truly live until we know the paradox of dying daily.
The world has entered a very stressful time – with economic insecurity on a global scale. The temptation will be to refuse the paradox. The temptation will be for the rich to remain rich; for the strong to remain strong; for the anxious to reside in their anxiety. The only way forward is the way Christ has set forth for us – who for our sake became poor; who for our sake became weak; who for our sake dwelt in the land of darkness that all might have light.
Glory to God for all things.