The Impossible Dance – Chapter 1 – Mystery and Confusion
Throughout the Bible there are statements that seem to conflict with each other. Since one of the principles of biblical interpretation is to examine any statement in the light of all scripture, the best option for understanding the tension between apparently conflicting statements would be to simply accept the tensions between those paradoxical statements rather than to resolve every issue to an understanding to a particular point.
The study of biology may provide good analogues in dealing with those tensions. For instance, in biological life, it seems that there are no simple formulas, no simple rules. Although, on the one hand, there are underlying precisely defined processes like the laws of chemistry and physics, on the other hand, there are overlying complex and variable biological processes that are adaptable to circumstances around them.
Even more, living organisms by themselves are noted by intricately balanced but unstable processes that, if the balance between processes fails, there is a most certain death. One of the standard definitions of life is that living things must evade the decay to equilibrium while at the same time maintaining internal order and organization. One example that we live with all the time is with our skin – every day our skin is shedding cells and creating new ones such that, on average, every 27 days an entire layer of skin is being replaced. Our skin seems “stable” and seems to stay the same even though entire layers of skin are constantly being replaced.
That type of process holds true for all the processes happening in all the cells of living organisms; The internal structures seem to be stable, while matter and energy are constantly flowing through them and the materials within the internal structures are being constantly refreshed. More remarkably, if we examine all of this activity, we discover that this activity is sustained by an array of complex sets of interdependent processes where one set of processes feeds off the by-products of other processes and visa-versa. All this activity is delicate in one sense, if some processes fail at one point the result can be death. In another sense, the processes are flexible, allowing an organism to live in a wide variety of circumstances (environments). Thus, we have a paradox of systems that are simultaneously fragile and robust.
This dynamic tension can be seen on another level with the interactions of bone and muscle. In a given skeletal muscle, some fibers are attached to one bone in one direction and some fibers are attached to another bone in another direction. For instance, in your bicep muscles, some fibers attach to the shoulder and the other fibers attach to the elbow. As the fibers within a muscle pull against one another the bones they are attached to move. You can see this activity when you “make a muscle.” As you draw your forearm towards your shoulder, you see the biceps start to bulge in the middle as the opposing fibers pull into each other.
Exactly which way the bones move is determined by the creature that controls the muscles, as the creature interacts with the environment, determining what direction to go or what task to do. While it seems at one level that in a given muscle the fibers are working against one another and seem to work opposite to one another, they are in fact on a larger scale working with each other to accomplish particular tasks.
All of this seems to reflect what we see in spiritual life. On one level, the attributes we see in the living God, His holiness, grace, etc. never change although they are constantly interacting with different circumstances. As circumstances change, although it may seem that God’s responses may change, it is not because God has changed, only that God’s dynamic response to different circumstances, whether globally or locally, has changed.
So, as we consider this, it may seem that some of God’s characteristics conflict with each other or are pulling against one another. For instance, how is God’s perfect desire for justice able to be reconciled with God’s grace? Or how is it that He can be the Lord of all and able to also be the Servant of all? In fact, God is interacting with the world, determining what He wants to do and then coordinating His attributes to do what He desires. For example, although God’s authority and servanthood seem to be in tension with one another, He is coordinating them to deal with our individual circumstances. At some point He sees the need to demonstrate more authority and at other times, more servanthood.
I call this interaction, Dynamic Tension; a process controlled by a person or an organism in which the attributes seem to be pulling in different directions but are in fact working in concert with one another to accomplish particular goals. These tensions carry over into many areas of theology. We see that as different congregations wrestle with apparently conflicting issues they make decisions based on their particular situations. Different congregations in different situations will come to different resolutions.
We are blessed to have both God’s creation itself and God’s revelation available to us as we try to try to learn about the living Creator. Fortunately, it is to our blessing that we don’t have to know everything about God for us to know or understand him, because we can at best only know Him in part. But meanwhile we have some paradoxes about God for us to examine and we will start exploring some of those paradoxes now.
Just as there are tensions within the attributes of the living God that actively interact with each other, so also God’s image-bearers have to deal with similar tensions. But in addition to those good and healthy tensions, we also impose another tension due to our rebellion against God. Our rebellion has created tensions not only within us, but between us and also between us and God.