Faith: Paradox or Packaged?

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I don’t like living with mystery and paradox any more than the next person. I prefer maps over mystery. I like to know where I am and where I’m going.

But life is ambiguous. It unspools in cycles in no predictable order—and for people of faith, there are a lot of loose ends. It’s easy to say that God is “wonder-ful,” but I’m not always comfortable with the “wonder” of his ways, especially when I wonder what the %*#@ he’s doing!

If I had my way, everything would fit a predictable pattern and be nailed down with precise definitions. Yet we can’t fit God into our patterns or definitions, and so it takes spiritual maturity to live with the ambiguity and the chaos, the absurdity and the untidiness. Accepting the ambiguity of God’s ways is a huge part of living by faith—especially when pain and suffering are part of the mix.

As Oswald Chambers writes: “On the human side the only thing to do for a man who is up against these deeper problems is to remain kindly agnostic.” (That is, admit you don’t know). I also agree with Anne Lamott’s assessment of a neatly packaged Christianity when she says, “Any snappy explanation of suffering you come up with will be horses**t.”


– Originally published in The Other End of the Dark: A Memoir About Divorce, Cancer, and Things God Does Anyway

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