The Art of Paradox

25 11 2008

Paradox is something of a lost art these days. The American mind, I find, has generally been given over to simplistic thinking, such that people either accept blatant self-contradiction without reason, or else they accept only the most straightforward thinking possible. A paradox is something that, at first glance seems unreasonable, but upon further inspection is seen to be true. It is not simply a matter of combining unlikely ideas in some vain attempt to imitate a sage.

The Trinity

The first thing that gets lost in the formation of any cult is the Trinity. The notion that anything can be three, yet still only be one, is absurd to many minds. The problem with this line of thinking is that it seems entirely rational. In fact, it is not at all unreasonable to say that one plus one plus one does not equals one.

1 + 1 + 1 = 1?

Yet, the problem is not in the math of it, but in the underestimation of God. If God were finite, like some mere mortal human being, then there could be no way for a Trinity to exist. However, if God were infinite (if God were God), then three of God would be the same as one God. It is mathematically true that three times infinity equals one infinity. To be precise,

3x = ∞ as x approaches infinity.

So the real question is, “How big is your God?” If he is all-knowing and all-powerful, then he must be of an infinite nature, and the Trinity is possible. Otherwise, he is only a god, not the God.


If believing in the Trinity is easy for most believers, there’s one thing that gets completely lost on the American mind, which is predestination. For the Christian who believes in self-determination, the idea of predestination is not seen as a paradox at all, but a contradiction against reality. He looks at the idea and thinks that he controls himself, therefore God does not control him, and that’s the end of it. The fact is that anyone who has ever accepted the idea of predestination has acknowledged its paradoxical nature and never assumed that the will of man were somehow overridden by the will of God. The fact is that the Bible is replete with references to predestination, and that it cannot be fully understood apart from it. However, predestination, itself, is hard to understand. Shall we blow it off as unreality, or shall we try to see if it makes sense in a paradoxical way?

As I’ve said before, if God created the Universe, then it stands to reason that he exists apart from it. If this is the case, then his reality may be of an entirely different nature than ours. Specifically, it may be a higher one. Everything that we see as reality may be as fiction to someone of a higher reality. Hamlet, as a fictional character, was a right physical and natural being within the realm of his own story. When his uncle killed his father, he blamed his uncle, not Shakespeare. People say that God lets us make our own choices, and this is true. No part of predestination denies this fact. Hamlet made his own decisions, within the context of the story. We make our own decisions within the context of ours. However, what part of “all-powerful” and “all-knowing” do we not get, to say that God has no direction in our lives? If we are predestined, it is not to say that we have no control of ourselves, but that God, on some other level, has complete control over the whole thing. Again, the question is, “How big is your God?”

It is the Americanism of Christianity that most reels against predestination. We are independent and self-reliant. We rebel against any notion that we might not be masters of our own destinies. We have, in part, become our own gods. The tendency to usurp God is as old as Satan’s rebellion. There is more to it, though. We do not want to blame God for anything. Job could easily have blamed God for the curse that fell upon him, and he would be right. Satan may have done the deed, but God gave him the license. What was at stake with Job, as is with us, was not whether or not God was to blame, but whether or not God had the right to do exactly what he did. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. God is not a mere mortal that men should judge him. But, then again, how big is your God?

Divine Authority

If the Bible says that there is no authority that is not established by God, that our rulers were instated divinely to give order to our society, then how are we to deal with democracy? Really, this is just another matter for predestination. Every authority is assigned by some person, whether by a Pope or another King, or by the people who are governed. Still, God establishes all authority. Democracy makes it harder to grasp, because we perceive ourselves as the basis for that authority. In reality, God establishes the President of the United States as much as he establishes the King of Jordan. Though people choose the President, he is still established by God. The physical cause appears to be the people, but the metaphysical cause is God. This is the essence of it.

Some people believe that they accept no paradox. In truth, everyone accepts some manner of paradox, because the biggest questions in life have no natural answers that can be derived from the evidence at hand. Life is full of apparent contradiction. Any answer that attempts to explain these contradictions is going to be a paradox. Over-simplifying a paradox does not remove the apparent contradiction, but merely casts it off further down the line of reasoning to a point not yet considered. For example, rejecting the Trinity means rejecting the infiniteness of God (any number times infinity equals one infinity. Anything for which this is not true is therefore not infinity). Reject God’s infinite nature, and he ceases to be perfect, all-knowing and all-powerful. Reject his perfection, and Christ’s death cannot save you. Reject his omniscience and his omnipotence, and he is not God. Then we’re all polytheists or atheists, and we revert to the mythological idea that the universe, life and everything just magically formed out of chaos, all by itself. It’s not that those who reject the trinity claim this end conclusion at the outset; it’s that they haven’t thought that far. So everything formed all by itself, some say. The irony is that they don’t see the paradox of this belief. Life does not, by nature, form itself out of nothing, and disorder does not, by nature, become order by itself. One can twist and contrive the evidence in any manner, but whatever the explanation is it will be a paradox….

Or else, it will be utter insanity. But then, one person’s paradox is another person’s absurdity.





One response

26 11 2008
JC Smith

Great article.
The Bible is full of paradox. Jesus is lion and lamb, man and God. The church is a bride and a body. Without an understanding of paradox as employed by God, we can have very little understanding of God himself.
Again, kudos on that article.

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