Faith and works.
Grace and truth.
Justice and mercy.
I’m just a Sunday school teacher, so I really don’t sit around all day trying to figure out puzzlers like predestination and free will. Quite the opposite, I work as a computer programmer, and we programmers are the people who want every question to have an answer that’s true or false, yes or no, 1 or 0, on or off. But some of the most important principles in the Bible just don’t work that way, and even those of us who are Bible-believing Christians can find ourselves struggling with paradoxes where two statements from the Bible seem to contradict each other, even while they both ring true.
A while back, an acquaintance of mine named Lucy had to deal with a big example of these ethical tug-of-wars at the orphanage she runs in Kenya. The orphanage gets all of its water from a spring up in the hills, and one morning the water pipe went dry. Lucy started following the pipeline out of the orphanage and up to its source, and it didn’t take her long to find a place where somebody had stolen a few sections of the tubing—probably to sell as scrap. Somehow, the village police caught the culprit right away, and that’s when the predicament developed for Lucy. If she didn’t press charges, she’d be sending out an open invitation to every pipe pilferer in town—not to mention that the pipe belonged to 150 orphans, and the Bible says that God expects us to “defend the cause of the fatherless” (Isaiah 1:17). On the other hand, God’s mercy certainly demanded that a man who stole a few sections of pipe shouldn’t be sentenced to a Kenyan prison where he probably wouldn’t survive for long. Justice or mercy? Which one should Lucy choose? It was a dilemma posed by two paradoxical scriptural teachings.
There’s nothing in the Bible that’s more riddled with paradoxes than its relentless discussions of money. Twenty years ago, when I first got involved in a church committee to teach people what the Bible says about our finances, I thought that all we would have to do was look up the Scripture verses about money, write them down, and tell people to obey them. That seemed easy enough—until I ran into a couple of surprises. The first surprise was that the Bible says a whole lot more about money than I had ever realized; the Bible verses about money would make up a one-hundred-page book all by themselves. My second surprise was that any time I found a Bible verse that said something about money, I could usually find another verse that seemed to say the opposite. Paradoxes.
Here’s one example: Proverbs 10:22 says, “The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it.” But in Matthew 19:23, Jesus says that if we want to know just how much trouble can get added to wealth, all we have to do is take a sewing needle down to the zoo and try a little experiment with the camel. No matter how well we grease the camel, Jesus’ little word picture is still going to say that it’s all but impossible for someone who’s been blessed with wealth to get into heaven. It’s a paradox.
Some people deal with these paradoxes by latching on to the side they like best. There are people who latch on to God’s mercy, for instance, and they say that the Bible verses about God’s justice are just the misguided rantings of some ancient people who weren’t as enlightened as we are. Other people latch on to God’s justice, and they say that the Bible verses about God’s mercy aren’t anything we should count on when God is dangling us like spiders over the flames of hell. But neither of those attitudes is really faithful to everything the Bible teaches. And what’s worse, as Randy Alcorn says, “Satan is the master of extremes, and he cares little which side of the horse we fall off. He cares only that we don’t stay in the saddle.” As soon as we favor one side of a biblical paradox over the other, we end up kissing the dirt.
This excerpt was taken from God’s Thrifty Extravagance: Understanding What the Bible Says About Money
©2011 by Jonathan Kopke
All rights reserved.
Discovery House Publishers
Grand Rapids, Michigan
pp. 7 – 9
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