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by Jacob Ninan
Spiritual truths usually have more than one side from a human point of view. But we human beings who operate with a limited capability in our brain often find it difficult to have a complete and balanced view of the truths at any time. Our tendency is to look at one aspect of the truth at a time, and in that process neglect or downsize other aspects of the truth. But the more mature we are, the more we become able to take a balanced view. This is sometimes seen as a mellowing of the stance we have taken earlier on different subjects. Maturity also gives us the ability to simultaneously accept different aspects of truth that seem to even contradict one another.
What happens when we become fascinated with just one aspect of the truth is that we tend to overlook or bypass the parts of Scripture which give us other aspects of the truth. Then sadly we even find ways of misinterpreting the parts of Scripture which appear to be against the special emphasis that we fancy, and classifying those who preach those truths as heretics. A. W. Tozer pointed out that truth was like a bird with two wings—it cannot fly with only one wing. When we read the word of God we need to see not only ‘It is written’ but also ‘It is also written’ if we are to understand the truth more completely. While each truth would be completely true, it may not be the complete truth in itself.
It is difficult for our logic to understand when it comes to spiritual things, that two concepts which seem to contradict each other can both be true at the same time! We need to understand that if God has revealed those truths to us in His word, they must be true, even if they defy our understanding. We must learn that spiritual truths are not illogical or unreasonable, but above and beyond our logic. C. S. Lewis has used the example of an imaginary creature which has only two dimensions to which no one can explain a third dimension. It is not difficult for us at all to understand three dimensions because we live in them. But we can see that even though the idea of a third dimension may appear to be ridiculous to that creature because it is beyond its comprehension, it is still true. Someday when Jesus comes again and we are given a glorified body without some of the limitations we have now we may be able to see things more clearly. Till then we have to just trust our Father and accept the truths which He has revealed to us.
Let us look at some of the typical examples of conflicting truths.
There is only one God (Deut.32:39) who is the Creator of everything, who has always existed and who has no beginning or end. All other so called gods which people worship are either imaginary or if they are real they are manifestations of deceiving spirits who act as gods (1Cor.10:20). But the one and only and the true and living God has revealed Himself to us as three Persons, the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit (e.g., Matt.28:19). The obvious logical conflict is about how God can be one and three at the same time. This subject goes above our heads, and even great scholars have not been able to find a satisfactory and logical explanation for this. But we believe both these concepts are true because God says so!
But those who trust their logic more than God cannot accept these truths. Some of them (e.g., Jehovah’s Witnesses) explain that only Jehovah is God, and find other explanations for Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Some others (the ‘Jesus Only’ people) insist that there is only one God and His name is Jesus. But then people like these find it impossible to properly explain all the other truths in the Bible along with such ideas, and they end up twisting and distorting other truths also. On the other hand, when we are willing to accept the fact that God is one God in three Persons all the other parts of the Bible also fall into their proper places.
Predetermination And Free Will
The Bible tells us that we who have been made children of God through faith in Jesus were elected according to the foreknowledge of God and predetermined before the foundations of the world (Eph.1:4;Rom.8:29). But it is also true that God wants everyone to be saved, and gives a free invitation for ‘whosoever wills’ to come to Him for salvation (2Pet.3:9;Rev.22:17). Calvinists and Arminians go hammer and tongs at each other over this, with both quoting different scriptures to support their views. Arminians accuse the Calvinists of saying that in predetermining who will be saved God simultaneously will have to predetermine who will be lost! Calvinists reply that people are so depraved because of sin that they can take no initiative to come to God without God choosing and calling them! But the fact of the matter is that the Bible teaches both the sovereignty of God and the free will of man, and it is not possible to hold on to just one without doing great injustice to the other. Even though space here is limited to go into the details, we need to recognise both aspects of the truth and seek to find out how to hold them both together.
Faith And Works
It is one of the outstanding features of God’s salvation that it is entirely through grace, unmerited favour from God. As a result no one can boast in himself that he has attained to it by his works (Eph.2:8,9). God came out with this amazing plan because no one could ever manage to earn his own salvation by any means (Rom.3:20). We receive this salvation freely when we go to God in repentance and believing that Jesus has already taken the punishment for our sins. This is one part of the truth. The other part is that now that we have received this salvation the way we live and the works we do will show it. The apostle James points out that if these ‘works’—which are really the outworking of faith and not the same as the works people do in order to earn their salvation—are not manifest in a man’s life it would show that his so-called faith is not genuine (Jas.2:26).
Some people are unable to distinguish between the works people undertake in order to gain salvation and the works which come as a result of salvation. So some get upset with exhortations such as “work out your own salvation” (Php.2:12) which are addressed to children of God, thinking that it is the same as working for salvation. Controversies come when some people confuse repentance, confession of sins and even believing with ‘works’. Some misunderstand grace as if now “we don’t have to do anything but God will do everything for us” negating all the exhortations in the New Testament towards obedience of faith!
One truth about the Bible, the written word of God, is that it was God who inspired the writers to write it. The problem comes when we try to understand God’s part and man’s part, God’s sovereignty and man’s limitations. It is obvious that God did not dictate the words to the writers as a boss does to his secretary, because the language styles, grammar, vocabulary, etc., are not uniform but depending on the writers themselves. Some people go to one extreme of placing an unrealistic value upon every word even irrespective of the context, and some others take a liberal view of the words giving more weightage to the human writer than the Divine Author. But is not the truth somewhere in between?
Prayer And God’s Sovereignty
Our God is not only omniscient and omnipotent, but also sovereign, doing whatever He pleases (Ps.115:3). No one can control Him or tell Him what He should do. At the same time He answers our prayers and acts according to our request! He tells us to ask whatever we want, but answers us if we pray according to His will (Jn.14:13;1Jn.5:14,15).
This mystery of prayer has puzzled people throughout times. Some argue that we need not pray anything because anyway God will do what He wants, and others insist that God will do whatever we ask. Many times we don’t get what God wants us to get because we don’t ask, and at other times God doesn’t answer because we ask wrongly (Jas.4:2,3). Many times God gives us what we need even without our asking (Mt.5:45). God’s truth here has many sides, and it would not be right to take one sided views by neglecting the other sides.
Leaders And Servants
In the kingdom of God, the greatest ones are those who serve all (Lk.22:24-27)! Jesus said that in the world leaders would lord it over the others, but in His kingdom they would serve the others (Matt.20:25,26). For leaders to serve seems to be a contradiction in idea as well as practice. When we look around we see many Christian leaders who do not seem to have understood this and who go on lording it over the others in their pursuit of the top position.
Equal But Different When it comes to husbands and wives, there is equality in God’s eyes (Gal.3:28), yet there are differences in roles, and wives are to submit to their husbands who are their heads (Eph.5:22,23)! Some men find it difficult to accept the fact of equality and consider women as if they were an inferior creation. Some women fight for equality and find it difficult to think of submitting to their husbands. Yet both are truths from God’s word. Actually if husbands love their wives as Christ loves the church it makes it easier for their wives to submit to them, and if the wives submit, it makes it easier for the husbands to love them!
There would be many other similar examples we can take from the Bible. But what this shows us is that we should resist the temptation to make too much of a truth which we like without looking to see if there are other truths we need in order to get a balanced view.
-- Published in the Light of Life magazine, February 2013
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