As I read the headlines or listen to the news, I can feel as if the world has turned upside down since I was a child. Values that appeared to be “the norm” often based on biblical principles could be found posted in public buildings and in public schools, not just espoused in our churches and homes. We seemed to be clearer on what we stood for and why. Somehow that felt reassuring even when those things were not perfect and shot through with our myopic humanity.
Of course, there were differing views among us back then, but we did not seem to shatter or break apart on their rocky shores. We appeared to be guided by something more than a presumed moral compass, a stronger commitment that bound us together beyond our contradictions. Perhaps some of that came from a sturdier foundation based on biblical principles.
Somewhere along the line we seemed to start reading stories we found in the Bible much as we would common fables, looking to discover the moral to this or that story. Maybe we missed the basics that the Bible is one large story rather than a collection of stories. It could be that we stopped looking at the Bible as relevant and got lost in what seemed like too many paradoxes.
It wasn’t a big leap until doubts and uncertainty about what the Bible said or did not say grew. We began to cut and paste what suited us.
But then I began to wonder if things have changed so very much. When the Lord walked the earth as both God and man, life was difficult and full of contradictions. Many were looking for a king who would set things in order. But when He arrived in a dirty stable to the mother of a peasant girl and her fiancé, no one recognized He was royalty.
Later, the religious leaders of the day were upset for the way He challenged their traditions, inconsistencies, and power structure that showed little evidences of God’s love, grace, and truth.
He talked with persons that religious leaders of the day ignored, shunned, or condemned.
He stretched His arms wide to embrace a broad cross-section of the people of His day without compromising any of the values He came to demonstrate.
And never were His arms stretched wider than on the cross that was used by those religious leaders to try to shut Him up. What a paradox! The cross, an instrument of torture, trumped their power play, confirmed His deity, and assured the insurgence they so much feared.
There are no other religions whose symbol stands as such a contradiction.
Listen to how G.K. Chesterton describes it in Orthodoxy:
“Christianity is centrifugal: it breaks out (Buddhism is centripetal…a circle represents it.) But the cross, though it has at its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms forever without altering its shape. Because it has a paradox in its center it can grow without changing….”
Chesterton’s perspective reminds me that even though I may not always see it, that symbol of contradiction and paradox is still breaking out in my current day.
In the midst of the current pandemic when fear cripples so many, others step bravely to the front lines to care for those who are weakest, sickest, and most vulnerable. It isn’t that they do not experience fear, but that they choose to press through it to meet a calling that was accepted when life was not so scary and headlines not so ominous.
The horrors of the headlines push us to examine our values, our beliefs, and our foundations.
The cross brings us back to the truth while thrusting us forward to bear witness to it and remember the hope it brings and the promise it holds.