The most splendid and shocking paradox

…seemingly unbelievable, but still true:

 

The INFINITE God became

the INFANT son of Mary

[We call this the “X-paradox,” because “X” is an ancient symbol for Christ.  The first letter of the word for “Christ” in the original Greek New Testament looks like the English letter “X.”]

 

1.This paradox was prophesied by the Hebrew prophet Isaiah, 700 years before the first Christmas.  The virgin-born child would also be the very presence of God:

Isaiah 7:14, NLT All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).

 

2.Prophesied again by the Hebrew prophet Isaiah: a human baby is also called “Mighty God” and “Everlasting Father.”

Isaiah 9:6, NLT   For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

 

3.Hebrew prophet Micah also prophesied that the special human baby of Bethlehem will also be God himself, living from eternity past, and with authority over all the earth. 

Micah 5:2-4, ESV  But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth;

then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.

 

4. This paradox was also described by the angel Gabriel, in an encounter with Mary.

Luke 1:26-38, NLT … God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David.  28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”  29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.  30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God!  31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.  33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”  34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”  35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.  36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she’s now in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.”  38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.

 

5.This paradoxical mystery was also then affirmed by an angel to Joseph, Mary’s fiancé:

Matthew 1:20-21, NLT   As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

 

6.This great paradox of Christmas was philosophically described by John, the fisherman Apostle…

John 1:1-14, NLT   In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.  2 He existed in the beginning with God.  3 God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.  4 The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone….14 So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

 

 

 

This XParadox (the Christmas Paradox) frees us to recognize the Creator’s paradoxical handiwork all around us.

 

The Essential Paradoxical Map

The paradoxes of Jesus—the Infinite who became the infant, the baby who is called Mighty God (Isaiah 9:6-8), the one who is fully God and fully human, the sovereign Lord who liberates us—are not distractions, but essential to his personal and cosmic roles.  After all, even the intellectual pursuits are all riveted with paradoxes.  The Creator planted them throughout his work—to keep even the most brilliant person humble—and to lead us back to him, the Master of Paradox.

Intellectual humility has a renewed place in the post-modern, post-secular role for every science, not just in theology.  Increasingly, human knowledge and even human “reason” itself are properly humbled by a plethora of persistent paradoxes.  What do these objective paradoxes do?

§  Objective paradoxes humble some of our intellectual pretenses—especially the prideful posturing of many highly educated linear thinkers. [See "Gödel, Gadamer, and Moral Business Leadership," Paul de Vries, Business and Professional Ethics Journal, Vol. 5, No 3 & 4.]

§  They keep us in play, in engagement, in sciences—fascinated, focused, even fun-oriented

§  They keep our human sensory and rational pores open to new truths and to the eternal Truth—the only resolution of these and other persistent objective paradoxes.

§  They make us aware that the full resolutions are beyond our logical structures.  The world hangs together in spite of the limits even of our diverse logics.  That is, Someone else besides us is the actual “cosmic glue,” holding our real world together.

§  To be perfectly clear, these paradoxes are not at all like the “gaps” of the former “God of the gaps” strategies.

o  These paradoxes were not discovered by theologians—defensive or otherwise.

o  These paradoxes are absolute.  There can be no intellectual resolution.

o  Far from creating “gaps,” these paradoxes generally arise where there are legitimate competing, overlapping theories, and not unexplained territories.

o  One of God’s roles is sustaining the world by personally embracing the whole—as the “cosmic glue.”  This divine role is phenomenal on multiple levels, including in these paradoxes where our human minds clearly perceive apparent objective contradictions. 

o  The Lord is not dwelling in any gaps, because there are no gaps. 

o  Apart from the Lord, there would be no unity—but we experience the unity every moment because He sustains it.

 

How widespread are these persistent, objective paradoxes?  There are significant paradoxes in virtually every studied discipline and science.  Thus, each science can learn humility, understand its limits, and appreciate God’s objective role in holding it all together [Col 1:17; Hebrews 1:3].  Some of these persistent paradoxes are recorded in the CHART below.

 

 

Chart: Paradoxes in All the Sciences/Specializations of Study

A partial and growing record

This chart uses a listing of professional specializations, by declining complexity, similar to their listing taught by

Prof. Herman Dooyeweerd (1894-1977) in his New Critique of Theoretical Thought (1955).

 

Discipline

Description

Some PARADOXES

ALL AROUND US:  Whole Godly attitude, activity, and experience

In Him, through Him and to Him are all things. – Romans 11

o  God breathed his Spirit into formed clay—so that everything we humans do is both 100% spiritual and 100% physical.  Nothing is fully explained in terms of physical matter and energy.  Also, nothing can be completely explained in terms of the spiritual aspects of humanity.

o  We humans are thoroughly earthly, with complex and vast earthly tastes, hopes, plans and desires—yet we are never satisfied until the Lord Himself fills the God-shaped vacuum that deeply defines each of us.

15.  Theology – including Biblical, systematic, & philosophical theology

Study of God in all His relationships with Himself, humanity, nature, and the rest of the universe.

o  The Infinite became the Infant.  The most elementary Christmas story is a paradox.  The angels said that the human baby of the first Christmas was “Christ the Lord.”  (Luke 2:11)  Soren Kierkegaard [1813-1855] called this the “Absolute Paradox.”  [See Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments and Unscientific Postscript.]

o  The promised baby is also Mighty God, the Hebrew prophet Isaiah had already declared 700 years before!  (Isaiah 9:6)

o  The eternal Word of God, who is God himself, became flesh and lived a human life among us.  (John 1:14) 

o  The Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, was both full (100%) of grace and full (100%) of truth (John 1:14-18)—even though human truth and grace are often in tension and never both complete. 

o  God is completely sovereign, and yet we humans are thoroughly free and responsible for what we do.  (referenced in Philippians 2:12-13)

14.  Ethics

Study of critical thinking about human problems

Human behavior is defined by many determinative factors—biological, psychological, sociological, historic, economic, political—and yet in our personal freedom and responsibility we choose who we become.

13.  Aesthetics

Study of symbol, beauty, and meaning in all modes of human and divine expression.

o  MC Escher drawings – for example, hands appear to draw each other, and steps continue to go up and yet return to the beginning point. 

o  Some musical works of JS Bach and others, where subtle changes stealth-fully elevate the musical signature.

o  Some Jazz, characterized by dissonant chords, superimposed poly-rhythms, and such like, create engaging, paradoxical sound.

12.  Economics

Study of the meaning and value of goods and services within a market

Adam Smith Paradox: Wise self-serving individual behaviors (on the part of self-serving business owners) lead to a benevolent free-market and society.   [See "Resource X: Sirkin and Smith on a Neglected Economic Staple," Paul de Vries, Business and Professional Ethics Journal, Fall, 1989.]

11. Political Science

Study of policies and systems of human governance.

Nothing truly good gets done without political collaboration, although the political structures are always deeply, predictably (and hopelessly) biased.

10. Sociology and Anthropology

Study of the full range of meaning and structures within human interaction

People are liberated to know their social and anthropological  backgrounds, yet the reigning stereotypes of those roles are distracting and debilitating

9. History

Study of human events within their significant temporal and contextual sequence.

People who are ignorant of history are bound to repeat it; and yet people who are saturated in history are conditioned to replicate it.

Consequently: disciple of history can be debilitating, whether it is studied or not.

8. Literature and Communication

The study of essay & narrative (fiction and non-fiction) within the full range of human reflection.

o  We cannot understand a communication context without understanding each of the parts.  Nevertheless, the communication parts make sense only in an understood whole context.

o  Titus 1:12-13 and the famous Cretan Paradox: Cretans are always lying.  One of them even said so, and what he said is true.  {This is one of many examples of great humor in the Bible.}

7. Logic and Linguistics

Study of concepts and words and their multiple connections.

o  Set-theory paradox: X = “The set of all sets that are not members of themselves.”  If X is a member, it is not.  Also, if it is not a member, it is.

o  Linguistic: “This statement is false,”  “If the Barber of Seville shaves all and only those who do not shave themselves, who shaves the Barber?,” and more.

6. Psychology

Study of human behavior, feeling and consciousness

We must come to know ourselves, we are told.  However, the self is radically elusive because it is always the subject, not ever the actual object of one’s own search.  The goal is made futile by its own process.  Introspection is self-doomed.

5. Biology

Study of organic structures and functions.

Founder Paradox: the exact causes and contexts of future biological mutations and survival environments are completely unknowable.  Consequently, the scientific theory of evolution cannot be scientifically predictive.

4. Chemistry

Study of the ultimate material elements, compounds, mixtures.

Molecules moving from one level of energy to another cannot exist in any in-between energy state.  Electrons must move from one orbit to another, without existing between their different orbits.

3. Physics

Study of matter and energy – from the tiniest particle or wave to the universe.

o  Heisenberg’s Principle: the more we know of either the momentum or location of a sub-atomic particle, the less we know of the other (momentum or location).  Exact knowledge of one is zero knowledge of the other. 

o  Light behaves 100% like waves and 100% like particles—and yet particles and waves are completely dissimilar from each other.

2. Geometry

Study of 1, 2, 3, or n-dimensional space.

Gabriel’s Horn:  a geometric funnel can have finite volume but truly infinite surface area

1. Mathematics

The study of the various kinds of numbers & functions.

Gödel’s Proof: there is no consistent, finite set of principles from which we can generate all the truths of arithmetic—even the most elementary, natural-number arithmetic.  No systemic structure of arithmetic can be both complete and consistent.  By whatever finite set of principles, there will always be truths of arithmetic that cannot be proven.  In short, truth is stronger than proof.

AROUND: Whole Godly attitude, activity, and experience

God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good – Genesis 1:31

o  The more we get to know other persons closely, the more wonderfully mysterious they will seem to us.  Even people married for decades will never fully “figure out” their spouse.

o  The more we get to know the Lord, the fewer questions we have, even if we have few answers.   Mr. Job of the Hebrew Scriptures no longer pursued his demanding questions after he encountered the Lord personally [Job 42:5,6]

Chart Copyright © 2010, Paul de Vries, DrPaul@nydivinityschool.org

 

 

Implications

What are some of the strategic implications and helpful applications of this chart of established paradoxes throughout knowledge-bases? 

1.  Paradoxes are an integral part of our lives in every aspect—not a special burden for Christian theology.  The God who planted paradox everywhere, created his biggest paradox on Christmas!

 

2.  This Chart reminds us that, at many levels, finite logic fails us—not only in life in general, but in each one of the disciplines in particular.  Thankfully, the Creator has endowed us with shrewd reasoning abilities which are superior to any of our logics.  The frequent failures of finite logics to comprehend and explain everything are not causes for despair, but are reminders of the divine origin of the human spirit, enabling it to thrive even in a paradoxical world.  [See The Taming of the Shrewd, Paul de Vries, Tomas Nelson Publishers, 1992.]  

 

3.  Truth is stronger than proof(or even logic) = we know more than we can prove —not only in life in general, but in each of the disciplines/sciences as well.  No science can ever fully represent reality—even the limited aspect of reality on which it focuses.  This is true at both ends of the science spectrum, and at every point between them.  For example, God is greater than theology; courageous moral behavior is greater than the discipline of ethics; priceless art is greater than aesthetics … and our daily use of numbers is greater than arithmetic.  Always.

 

4.  We cannot be more demanding of Scripture and theology than we are of every one of the disciplines, all of whom can justifiably humble our minds and baffle our logics.

 

5.  Intellectual pursuits are wonderful and rewarding—and a divine calling for us humans.  However, they never propel us to levels beyond what is still finite and flawed human thought.  Only God can draw us to Himself and to the eternal Truth.

 

6.  Intellectual humility—a great characteristic of spiritual formation is further facilitated by the paradoxes in every field and discipline—each one reminding us of the limits of finite minds.

 

7.  When our finite intellects are humbled, honest passion for God is released to express freely our gratitude and love to our Lord, our awesome Creator, our beautiful Savior, our empowering Spirit.  Let God’s amazing grace and splendid joy fill our wills, our spirits.

 

 

…and what else? _______________________________________   Much more can be added.

 

©2013, Paul de Vries, 646-395-0008, DrPaul@nydivinityschool.org.