Feb 21 2008

Paradox?

 Subject: RE: Reading material
Date: Wed, 20 Feb 2008 14:22:33 -0600

Actually, among non-fundamentalist evangelicals, there is less willful ignorance than we find around here, especially where wacky eschatology isn’t the primary form of ecclesiastical entertainment.  I heard someone this morning (in our men’s group) mention that he hoped to be on the first trip out when the Lord returns…

 The other Packer book I’m reading, “Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God,” is excellent.  In the chapter just finished, he discusses the futility of trying to reconcile/harmonize the antimony between divine sovereignty and human responsibility:

 C.H. Spurgeon was once asked if he could reconcile these two truths to each other.  ‘I wouldn’t try,’ he replied; ‘I never reconcile friends.’  Friends? — yes friends.  This is the point that we have to grasp.  In the Bible, divine sovereignty and human responsibility are not enemies.  They are not uneasy neighbours; they are not in an endless state of cold war with each other.  They are friends, and they work together.

 He wrote this in 1959 and it’s still fresh and relevent (and quite blunt at times)…

+++

Subject: RE: Reading material
Date: Wed, 20 Feb 2008 16:24:27 -0600

Just realized I spelled “antinomy” wrong.  Packer goes to great lengths to explain that the two concepts are not a paradox, but an antinomy.  He states the definition from The Shorter Oxford Dictionary — “a contradiction between conclusions which seem equally logical, reasonable, or necessary” — but then suggests that the opening words should be “an appearance of contradiction.”

 Wish I could send you the whole chapter.  It’s really good stuff.  My recommendation would be to guide every missionary and preacher through this book before they set out with some really bad ideas about evangelism.  Here’s a gem from his introduction:

 In examining the relationship between God’s sovereignty and the Christian’s task of evangelism, I have a specific aim in view.  There is abroad today a widespread suspicion that a robust faith in the absolute sovereignty of God is bound to undermine any adequate sense of human responsibility.  Such a faith is thought to be dangerous to spiritual health, because it breeds a habit of complacent inertia.  In particular, it is thought to paralyse evangelism by robbing one both of the motive to evangelize and of the message to evangelize with.  The supposition seems to be that you cannot evangelize effectively unless you are prepared to pretend while you are doing it that the doctrine of divine sovereignty is not true.

+++

Packer has good reasons for differentiating between a paradox and an antinomy.  Here’s a distilled excerpt to explain his thinking:

 … an antinomy is not the same thing as a paradox.  A paradox is a figure of speech, a play on words. … Many truths about the Christian life can be expressed as paradoxes. … The point of a paradox, however, is that what creates the appearance of contradiction is not the facts, but the words.  The contradiction is verbal, but not real, and a little thought shows how it can be eliminated and the same idea expressed in non-paradoxical form.  In other words a paradox is always dispensable. … the employment of a paradox is an arresting trick of speech, but it does not imply even an appearance of contradiction in the facts that you are describing.

Also it should be noted that a paradox is always comprehensible. … But the person at the receiving end must be able, on reflection, to see how to unravel the paradox, otherwise it will seem to him to be really self-contradictory, and therefore really meaningless.  An incomprehensible paradox could not be distinguished from a mere contradiction in terms.  Sheer paradox would thus have to be written off as sheer nonsense.

By contrast, however, an antinomy is neither dispensable nor comprehensible.  It is not a figure of speech, but an observed relation between two statements of fact.  It is not deliberately manufactured; it is forced upon us by the facts themselves.  It is unavoidable, and it is insoluble.  We do not invent it, and we cannot explain it.  Nor is there any way to get rid of it, save by falsifying the very facts that led us to it.

What should one do, then, with an antinomy?  Accept it for what it is, and learn to live with it.  Refuse to regard the apparent inconsistency as real; put down the semblance of contradiction to the deficiency of your own understanding; think of the two principles as, not rival alternatives, but, in some way that as present you do not grasp, complementary to each other. …

 … The antinomy which we face now is only one of a number that the Bible contains.  We may be sure that they all find their reconciliation in the mind and counsel of God, and we may hope that in heaven we shall understand them ourselves.  But meanwhile, our wisdom is to maintain with equal emphasis both the apparently conflicting truths in each case, to hold them together in the relation in which the Bible itself sets them, and to recognize that here is a mystery which we cannot expect to solve in this world.

 This is easily said, but the thing is not easily done.  For our minds dislike antinomies.  We like to tie up everything into neat intellectual parcels, with all appearance of mystery dispelled and no loose ends hanging out.  Hence we are tempted to get rid of antinomies from our minds by illegitimate means: to suppress, or jettison, one truth in the supposed interests of the other, and for the sake of a tidier theology. …

+++

 Of course, Packer packs his explanations with lots of examples of paradoxes unraveled.  He also compares this Biblical antinomy with one in physics, in the matter of whether light behaves like a wave or like particles (it behaves like both and neither behavior can be made to fit the other explanation).  It’s all heady stuff and an appropriate reminder that, despite what stodgy politicians would like us to believe, words really do matter.  We are poorer citizens and poorer Christians when we dismiss carefully crafted language for the more immediate gratification of our earthier senses.  And that, my dear pastor, is not a broadside at anyone, but recrimination at my own spiritual poverty whenever confronted by the wit and wisdom of men like Packer or those ancient saints who recorded God’s revelation of Himself to us.

Permanent link to this article: http://levantium.com/2008/02/21/paradox/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.