In The Grand Paradox (published by Thomas Nelson this week) author Ken Wytsma invites us to sit around his dining room table and engage in “a frank conversation about the true nature of Christian faith.” One can envision sitting in Ken’s house with occasional appearances by his wife, Tamara, and four daughters, talking philosophy, history and the Bible into the wee hours of the night.
“Do we have a wrong definition of faith?” “How do I talk to God or hear from him?” “What is God up to in this world?” “Do I have to give up the things that make me happy to have faith?” “Are doubts ok?” “What is God calling me personally to do?” “How am I supposed to live for God in a crazy world?” “Can’t I just have Jesus and not the institutional church?’ and “What is it all for?”
These are the conversations Ken navigates as he seeks to rouse us from our “Cultural Dramamine” and demonstrate “the story of Jesus is full of paradox.” “Real faith doesn’t allow for easy answers.” “Life is messy. God is mysterious. And accepting this tension-filled truth, no matter the circumstances, is the pathway to peace.”
While faith is the common thread that weaves through these conversations, the book is probably best read as part of a group discussion that can chew on each piece. The book is also ideal for someone seeking direction in life who gets alone in nature and pulls out this book and the Bible as they wrestle with God.
Ken invites that wrestling. “Discovering God’s will for our own lives can only be grounded in a correct understanding of His will at large.” We need to see ourselves as part of God’s big story as we learn to be happy in contentment, pray authentic prayers, and move forward by faith. While there are times for contemplative solitude, Ken also advocates for life in community – specifically the messy family of faith known as the church.
Ken invites a deeper understanding of God and “our understanding of God should compel justice.” Ken speaks of the power of story as he demonstrates this in each of his discussions. One such discussion took place at The Justice Conference which Ken helped launch. A young pastor exclaimed, “I’m all for justice, but at the end of the day, I want Jesus not justice.” This is one of many apparent contradictions the book explores. In this instance, Ken demonstrates the gospel and justice cannot be separated. As he says, “Justice was Jesus’ mission, what he did in healing people and advocating for the poor, and the mandate He left His followers – that we should do likewise, and love one another. In fact, justice and Jesus are so closely linked that whatever you do for the poor, vulnerable, or oppressed is as if we are doing it literally to Him and for Him.”
Ken brings the heart of a pastor, the mind of an educator, and the hands of a justice laborer to the table as he lovingly, honestly, and directly deals with the tough issues of faith and the mysteries and messiness of life. As he says, “Part of faith is trusting that your calling, as well as your steps, may remain a mystery…(but) when we surrender our plans to God, we’ll find that we are successful in serving God.” “What is God’s will for your life? Simple. It is that you live out His will for the world.”
The conversation is long and engaging. Along the way, Ken wants to reflect the heart of Jesus and His kingdom. Relationships matter and in the Kingdom answers are less important than love. That may be frustrating for those looking for pat formulas. But as Ken says, “What God has called us to do is something He’s made possible for us to do… You have gifts, talents and the ability to love. Be empowered. Be encouraged.” You are a precious eternal soul engaged in Kingdom work.
“Following God does not have to be exotic to be important. We can’t ignore urgent issues at home, like homelessness or the plight of undocumented immigrants, in favor of overseas causes that might seem more exciting or heroic to our American eyes and ears,” Ken says.
As the night turns to dawn on the discussion of faith, Ken might summarize the discussion as ‘the just shall live by faith.’ As he says, “The just will live by faith simply states the obvious: that if I live outside of myself, if I live to give and serve, if I think of others as being as important as myself, if I live for justice – what ought to be – I have to trust that somehow I am going to be taken care of. I have to believe that it truly is better to give than to receive, and that God really does watch over and sustain the just.”
In the midst of deep mysteries there are profound certainties. That is part of the Grand Paradox. In losing our life we find it as we wrestle with the mystery, walk through the messiness, and by faith
Go and Do Likewise.