A number of years ago, I met several times with a man whom I would describe as an agnostic. He was a bright, well-educated individual, who clearly was searching for spiritual truth. After about six months, he came by my office and announced that he was ready to become a Christian. I was so surprised you could almost have picked me up off the floor.
One of the primary reasons, he told me, that he had come to this decision was because in his search, so much of what he had read in the Bible was counterintuitive. Scriptural teachings went against the grain of natural human instinct and reason. He said he had concluded that the Bible, and the wisdom of the Bible, could not have been inspired by mere man.
So many of God’s important truths are foreign to the world we live in because they are in fact counterintuitive. Up seems to be down; down seems to be up. For this reason, biblical truth comes off as utter foolishness to some people.
What these people do not recognize is that very often the wisdom of God, the truth of God, is paradoxical. Paradox is defined in Webster’s as: “a tenet that is contrary to received opinion. A statement or principle that is seemingly contradictory and opposed to common sense, but may in fact be true.”
A good example of this when you read where Jesus says: “deny yourself,” “die to self” and “lose your life.” This teaching is diametrically opposed to a culture that has been raised on slogans like: “Delight yourself”, “Indulge yourself” “Grab all the gusto you can” “If it feels good, do it.”
I think this is why so many people are suspicious of Jesus. They see Him as a thief who wants to steal their lives and their happiness from them.
This is where the paradox of God’s truth comes into play. Think about the issue of commitment. Whenever you truly commit to something or someone, you have to give up something in the process. In one sense, you can see it as a sacrifice, where you forfeit something of great value, for the sake of something of greater value.
In our culture, the commitment we are most aware of is marriage. When a man proposes to a woman, he does so knowing he is giving up all other relationships with single women. He is giving up a great deal of his autonomy, as well as all of his assets. When you listen to the marriage vows, you recognize you are giving all that you are and all that you have to that other person. You are telling them I belong exclusively and permanently to you. All of me.
Isn’t this what we all yearn for? And we do it to experience union and oneness with another person, and in the process experience incredible joy.
In marriage, when you give up your life, you gain the ultimate human relationship. Jesus is telling us the same thing, that a new, right relationship with Him is worth everything. However, He has made it clear that we must give ourselves to Him, to surrender to Him. And when we do, we will suddenly find everything we have been searching for.
Elizabeth Elliott shares a wonderful illustration to help us understand this paradox:
The growth of all living green things wonderfully represents the process of receiving and relinquishing, gaining and losing, living and dying. The seed falls into the ground, dies as the new shoot springs up. There must be a splitting and a breaking in order for the bud to form. The bud “lets go” when the flower forms. The calyx lets go of the flower. The petals must curl up and die in order for the fruit to form. The fruit falls, splits, relinquishes the seed. The seed falls into the ground . . .
There is no ongoing spiritual life without this process of letting go. At the precise point where we refuse, growth stops. If we hold tightly to anything given to us, unwilling to let it go when the time comes to let it go or unwilling to allow it to be used as the Giver means it to be used, we stunt the growth of the soul.
Think of your life as an acorn. It is a marvelous little thing, a perfect shape, perfectly designed for its purpose, perfectly functional. Think of the grand glory of an oak tree. God’s intention when he made the acorn was the oak tree.
When you look at the oak tree, you don’t feel that the “loss” of the acorn is a very great loss. The more you perceive God’s purpose in your life, the less terrible will the losses seem.