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]
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."
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.