The Christmas paradox

This week the news reported that the density of traffic in the Netherlands has significantly increased during the past year. Since the economy has been improving, the number of cars has grown, with more traffic jams as a result. It is simply an example of how one situation excludes another situation. When the economy is doing well it is hardly to be expected that the traffic will flow more easily. That is just a fact of life.

The are many things that exclude each other. Yet, there are also things that appear to be at odds with each other but may still go together. Being poor does not automatically mean being unhappy, even though many people might think so. As I am writing these lines, my thoughts go to our night watchman in Yaoundé, Cameroon. We lived in an apartment above the publishing house/printing house. As most people in the area where we lived, we employed a night watchman. One evening, when we returned home, he was preparing his meal under the porch roof. When he opened the gate for us, I made some small talk with him. I looked at his very simple meal. There was a big smile on his face.  Je mange bien, patron!’ (I am eating well, boss!). Compared to me this man was very poor, but he managed to be content!

However, at a different level there are things that human logic simply cannot connect. Human reasoning excludes the one from the other. But in God’s world things that we cannot connect, may somehow go together.

Let me mention just a few of these paradoxes. Take, for instance, the Trinity as an example. God is one. But at the same time he consists of three persons .How in the world can one reconcile these two statements? When, in our search for a solution, we over-accentuate God’s unity (if that were possible), the element of threeness is easily lost sight off. However, if we put too much stress on God’s threeness, we run the risk of ending up with something like a board of three directors of the universe. There is no other option but to accept this mystery in faith.

Or, think of the Bible. The Bible is a divine product, but is is written by humans. What can we make of this? It seems as if we are dealing with two elements that totally exclude each other. However, in God’s logic they are both true. As human beings we must be careful no to overemphasize the divine nature of the Scriptures. Doing this can easily lead us to a rather barren, mechanical theory of inspiration. But if we put the human element too much on the front the Word of God loses its authority.

One more example. We are, as human beings, sinners but at the same time we may claim to be ‘children of God.’ How do these two conditions fit together? Luther spoke the famous words: Simul iustus et peccator—we are justified but yet, at the same time, we remain sinners! To us it would seem that we must be one or the other. But with God these two conditions are simultaneously a reality—and that is something we may gratefully accept in faith. Let us rejoice that the church is not only a school for sinners but at the same time also a community of the saints.

Yes, and then there is this ultimate paradox. Jesus was and is God, and he became man. His incarnation did not mean that he retained just something of his divinity, and that he became somewhat similar to us. His incarnation was not just a pretense. We will never understand it, but in Jesus Christ we find the ultimate paradox. Jesus’ divinity and his humanity must, in our human logic, necessarily exclude each other. But, thank God, in God’s world these two elements can somehow go together.

This is the wonderful truth of Christmas. Jesus became the Immanuel—God with us. Because he is God he can save us. Because he is man, he can in all respect be our ‘brother.’ Thank you Lord for this magnificent paradox.