Following Jesus sometimes feels awkward, but should it be?

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Author Ken Wytsma says the weirdness of following Jesus is quite normal. (Image courtesy of Timoni West -

Author Ken Wytsma says the weirdness of following Jesus is quite normal. (Image courtesy of Timoni West -

Author Ken Wytsma says the weirdness of following Jesus is quite normal. (Image courtesy of Timoni West -

Author Ken Wytsma says the weirdness of following Jesus is quite normal. (Image courtesy of Timoni West –

Following Jesus in a secular or pluralistic context can feel a little bit like getting stuck in adolescence. The faithful can become paralyzed by self-awareness and often feel out of place. But according to author Ken Wytsma, this weirdness is actually quite normal. When a messy life collides with a mysterious God, should we expect anything less?

Wytsma is president of Kilns College, founder of The Justice Conference, and author of The Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God, and the Necessity of Faith. In his new book, he argues that faith embraces the paradoxes in Scripture and the tensions of a life lived in faith.

RNS: You say that following Jesus is awkward and is supposed to be. Explain.

KW: The very nature of faith is tension filled. Walking by faith is foggy, unclear, and rarely comes with a sense of what the outcomes are. Just think of a time when you closed your eyes or were blindfolded, needed someone to steer you, and were groping with your arms for any wall or door jam that would tell you where you were. We don’t like tension so we look for ways to relieve it. Choosing faith, however, is choosing to stand in the tension and wait for God to be the resolution to the awkwardness we feel.

RNS: How are God’s ways “contradictory?” Doesn’t this create a hurdle for those who see faith as rational and logical?

KW: There are many paradoxes in Scripture. Because of our intuitions, expectations and how we’ve been socialized, the ways of the world are counter-intuitive to God’s ways. In faith, we give to receive. We die to live. We lose our life to find it. The weak will be strong. Suffering can be a blessing. The last will be first. [tweetable]Faith embraces paradox and trusts that God’s ways are indeed the best.[/tweetable]

Image courtesy of Thomas Nelson

Image courtesy of Thomas Nelson

RNS: What part does the mystery of God play in all of this?

KW: Life is messy. We think it shouldn’t be—that when we fix our money or relational problems, we’ll finally get to that season where it’s not messy. But that season never comes or lasts. Likewise, God is mysterious. We think God shouldn’t be—that his answers should be clearer and come more often—and if we employ the latest fad or formula maybe God will finally be understandable. But God is hidden and often doesn’t answer clearly or as often as we’d like. [tweetable]The life of faith embraces the messiness of life and the mystery of God.[/tweetable] It trusts that we will find life walking in the middle of that tension.

RNS: What is “wisdom’s folly,” and why does it matter?

KW: Wisdom is a beautiful thing whereby we can discern best choices using common sense and experience. God calls us sometimes, however, to do the seemingly illogical and foolish—like Abraham sacrificing Isaac or David fighting Goliath. In these instances, wisdom or advice can actually get in the way of faith and obedience. When facing big decisions, I often say that we should either go forward in faith (if we have a clear sense of God’s leading) or take a step backward in wisdom (which is the safest place if we don’t have a clear sense of God’s leading or direction). Following God is always the wisest, most logical thing to do, even if we don’t understand what he’s up to.

RNS: Following Jesus can mean encountering “spiritual fatigue,” you say. What is this and how does one overcome it?

KW: Giving your life away can often feel like being “poured out.” It can make one want to quit, give up or take a break. Faith teaches us to take our fatigue to God. To ask for times of refreshing. To ask for others who can encourage us. Or for God to give us rest from our trials. Much of Scripture is dedicated to hopeful language meant to strengthen those who are weary. Justice, especially, can bring on fatigue. We overcome it by expecting trials and fatigue, finding spiritual community, and practicing love as a discipline of self-care. One of the best ways out of the quicksand of fatigue is to “love your way out.”

Ken Wytsma is president of Kilns College and founder of The Justice Conference.

Ken Wytsma is president of Kilns College and founder of The Justice Conference.

RNS: You say that “love is never wrong.” I’ve heard this thinking applied by progressives to modern debates about same-sex issues. How does this principle inform your own understanding of this cultural hot button issue?

KW: One of the craziest verses in the Bible comes in Galatians after Paul describes the fruit of the spirit… love, joy, peace, patience, etc. In summation, he states, “Against such things there is no law.” No law. Never a time when those things are legislated against, wrong or out of bounds.

As Christians, we tend to always search for some directive or clear message from God on what to do now or what choices to make in a given situation. In doing so, we often neglect all the obvious things we can do. In the absence of clarity on a few specific things, I should still take comfort that much (if not most) of God’s will for my life is made clear. There are things I can pursue confidently in any and every situation that are always good, never wrong. In trying to please God, “love is never wrong.”

RNS: You talk about complexity, doubt, and “the limits of human understanding.” What do you think about those who lean heavily on apologetics and scientific “proof” for God? Are they off base?

KW: Apologetics, or reasoning about the existence of God, is an important discipline. It seeks to ground confidence that God exists. As important as this is, however, knowing that God exists is a far cry different than knowing God—just like knowing that Barack Obama is president is different than knowing Obama. While confidence in the existence of God has its place, we always need to come back to faith as a decision to follow God each and every day. The Bible doesn’t say the righteous will believe there is a God; rather, that the righteous will live by their faith.

  • Earold D. Gunter

    FAITH is tension filled, foggy, unclear, contrary, embraces uncertainty, follows the illogical, is fatiguing, and requires that you live life oblivious to reality. Sounds like a terrific way to live life. This guy is completely full of it.
    By the way, he completely dodged the question if “love is never wrong”, how can two people of the same sex who love each other be wrong, but you already know that. You also know the answer, but you’ll keep looking for it in the world you’ve chosen to live. Unfortunately for you, a lifetime could be wasted looking for what will never be.

  • Luke

    Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”

    –That must make a whole lot of professing “Christians” scared, really scared!

  • Jack

    Earold, the writer was being honest about the struggles of a life of faith. What did you expect him to say — that everything is simple and easy? If you want that sort of thing, go listen to a televangelist who preaches a health-and-prosperity doctrine. I prefer to hear reality-based reflections, but that’s just me.

  • “Requires us to live life oblivious to reality …”

    Okay, Earold, you made me go back and read the article a second time. But, as I suspected, that’s not anywhere in it! Why do you make up things like this and put them in the mouth of the writer? He didn’t say anything like that. What’s your game?

  • samuel Johnston

    “Apologetics, or reasoning about the existence of God, is an important discipline. It seeks to ground confidence that God exists.”
    O.K. I will spot you gods- lots of them. How is it that monotheism is obvious?
    It wasn’t obvious to most of the ancient world. I submit it only seems obvious now, because people, in the Western world, have been REQUIRED to think that for so many centuries.
    Life is filled with contradiction, conflict, injustice, and animal desires, but also beauty, love, loyalty and hope. William of Occam opined that God (one God}) could do anything but contradict himself. I agree. The contradictions that we observe and experience cannot be the work of one god. I will save the implications for another time.

  • Jack

    Across polytheistic cultures, one finds evidence of earlier belief in monotheism….typically a single god who withdrew favor from that culture or from the world but would one day extend it again. It is a recurrent theme across cultures that had no contact with each other.

  • samuel Johnston

    Hi Jack,
    Please post your references.

  • Earold D Gunter

    Larry Short, Ok, you got me. I didn’t use the authors exact words in my comment, but rather a synopsis of the meaning of them in his answer to the question “What is “wisdom’s folly,” and why does it matter?”.
    If you live your life based on faith and that faith requires you to do what you consider illogical, it requires you to live life oblivious to reality.

  • Earold D Gunter

    Jack, if your preference is reality based, then I would urge you to abandon living life based on faith. Faith by its very nature is not based on reality, but rather in disregarding it and replacing it with trust in something that can’t be proven. I can certainly understand that those who live life based on faith would find comfort in this man;s words, as deep down they are all uncomfortable, because they are unsure that what they are following is real, as well they should be,,,,

  • Deane

    The only thing I can think of is a widespread story found in Africa that the creator God originally lived close to humans but was irritated by their behaviour (usually explained as talking too much or making too much noise) and so moved away. In my country the story is advanced to explain why humans cannot talk directly to God, but must approach him through one’s ancestors. The story is not necessarily linked to monotheism; the Zulus (who also related the story of the absentee God) had a widespread Cult of the Maiden, who was understood to be (the more accessible) Daughter of God. In many African societies the story amounts to the same kind of functional atheism that one finds among agnostics and Buddhists, for a radically absent God is virtually no God at all.

  • samuel Johnston

    Hi Deane,
    Thanks for the information.
    “a radically absent God is virtually no God at all.”
    Like most cultures, the Egyptians thought of gods like kings- living and ruling in a specific land area. They had a crisis of culture when soldiers were required to leave Egypt to provide a forward defense of their empire.
    The soldiers believed that if their bodies were lost in a distant country, they would not be able to access the after life.

  • Jack

    Sorry, Earold, but I am quite confident that the content of what I believe is true, given the historical, legal, and textual evidence, and given the fact that opponents have had 20 centuries to come up with alternative explanations for that evidence and have failed repeatedly to do so.

    Believing in the basic facts of my faith is quite easy….what’s hard is consistently trusting God when circumstances don’t go the way I think they should go in life. These are two separate issues and the writer of the article is focused on the second and not the first.

  • Jack

    Earold, that’s not exactly what he means. He’s paraphrasing the Bible, which is saying that to reject the folly of wisdom means the kind of wisdom which says, for example, to put yourself first, ahead of other people, to not put all your eggs in one basket, to stay alive rather than risk your life for what is true or just or right, etc. In each of these cases, worldly wisdom says one thing, but faith and trust say another. Even in a purely secular sense, there is a tension between such wisdom and choosing something higher and more noble. The signers of the Declaration of Independence, for example, rejected such wisdom and chose nobler goals in which they risked everything, including their lives and fortunes.

  • Jack

    One old book which attempts to collect the various stories across cultures which point to earlier monotheism is “Eternity in their Hearts,” by Don Richardson.

  • samuel Johnston

    Thanks, Jack.

  • “we always need to come back to faith as a decision to follow God each and every day.”


  • @Jack,

    “….It is a recurrent theme across cultures that had no contact with each other…..”Eternity in their Hearts”

    Joseph Cambell’s “Hero with a Thousand Faces” is a much better book if you are interested in cultural patterns. Every culture develops hero myths because life is full of dangers. It is the most basic social science.

    The pattern is not a universal “god” at all – but universal human fears and suffering and a universal need to resolve them with social strategies.

    Societies build a list of taboos and an unchanging authority figure to enforce them – it is man-made social organization 101 – not a sign of a god.

    This is not at all surprising since all humans are members of the same species, Homo Sapiens – which is why we all are born with the requirement for social organization. Taboos (a list of don’ts) are built through a social conscience and this automatically requires invisible enforcement. Bingo – you have a job for a god.
    It is painfully obvious.

    Taboos are similar because humans are the same everywhere. Gods are required for enforcement where there is no better answer.

    Don Richardson and his wife were missionaries and his thinking was polluted by his zeal to stick Yahweh onto every other God story he ever heard. He is not an original – Christians have been making these claims for years and it isn’t supportable. It is simple solipsism to imagine all these other Gods add up to the one your own parents happened to preach about.

    Some of these missionaries tried to change the language of these tribes – as Richardson did – to help make Jesus appear to be the hero God they had been waiting for. It is transparent – God Korubumba becomes God Yahweh in the process. Pathetic.
    Richardson even constructed an alphabet and a language for one of his societies to accomplish this.

    It is like trusting a car salesman to tell me about how I’ve been waiting for his used jalopy all my life.

    Just because everybody wants a hot babe in a red Ford Mustang, that doesn’t mean one must exist somewhere – much less be waiting for you just over the horizon if you’ll only believe it and report to the temple.
    Religion is solipsistic to the extreme.

  • Look up “Cargo cults of the South Pacific” for an eyeopener – the Savior myths are constructed even today.
    It isn’t proof of a savior. It is proof that everybody wants one.

    Savior Myths are just shortcuts to a happier, less difficult life – for a price. Once this selfish myth is deemed “virtuous” a society loses its ability to function humanely.

    As George Orwell warned in Animal Farm, one of the greatest books ever written, beware of utopian dogma.

    “There, comrades, is the answer to all our problems. It is summed up in a single word — Man”
    ― George Orwell, Animal Farm

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