Summary: An exploration of the mysteries and apparent contradictions in life that call followers of Christ into the life of faith. A good book for a thoughtful, general audience for whom the “conventional” answers are not working.
Most of us don’t like things that seem contrary to each other. We often try to resolve the messiness of either-or binaries by choosing one and dismissing the other–until that stops working. Ken Wytsma argues that paradox is at the heart of the life of faith in Christ, and is the only way to live with the messiness of life and the mysteries that lurk behind statements like having to lose one’s life to find them, that it is more blessed to give than receive, and that givers prosper while misers perish.
After introducing this idea he begins with our idea of faith and drawing on Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling uses the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac to talk about faith as implicit trust and obedience that walks into the unknown. This means walking into the life of unceasing prayer that learns to listen for the voice of God. This in turn leads to the startling paradox that loving God calls us into living justice in the world. Living joyfully is found not in having but “on our heart’s wanting the right things” (p. 62). The remedy for doubt is not answers. He argues that when we doubt and struggle, the answer is both honesty about our doubts and pain, and paradoxically a faith in the goodness of God we cannot see.
We find our way in life not by discovering God’s plan but by pursuing God and pressing into the life of love which is always God’s intention for us. Living well is not a consequence of more information, more experiences and more technology but growing in the Christ-shaped life. As flawed as the church is, it’s messiness is what we need to sort out our lives.
The last chapters focus on our destiny, the eternity that begins now, living with hope in the darkest hours, and the patience that waits for the blessing of God on God’s terms. It is living in the tension of being between the gardens of Eden and the New Jerusalem, which is often a Gethsemane experience.
As you can tell from this summary of the book’s contents, Wytsma gives us less a linear argument for paradox than a series of reflections on the paradoxes that run through the life of a Christ-follower. He draws on philosophers like Pascal and Kiekegaard and theologians like Niebuhr and stories out of his own life and community to provide to explore different facets of this paradoxical life of faith. It’s one of those books to be mused on a chapter at a time rather than read straight through.
This is a readable book with short chapters but not simple answers. He describes a Christian life with lots of loose ends and mess, with doubt and pain and darkness. Yet he also gives an account of the life of faith that has a ring of truth–one that helps the person in the midst of the mess to go on pursuing God. Such writing is all too rare as are such voices in the pulpit. May Wytsma’s tribe increase.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”