Have you ever noticed that Christianity is comprised of a series of BOTH/AND concepts instead of EITHER/OR? While they may seem impossible or contradictory at the very least, the beauty of Christianity lies in its paradoxes. At the very heart of our faith is the ultimate BOTH/AND – the Incarnation. Our Lord and Savior is fully human and fully divine. Therefore, it would make sense that more beautiful BOTH/AND principles flow out of that.
Mercy and Justice: To do justice to a person means to give him at least what he deserves. A Christian is never permitted to act “unjustly”. However, it is not only possible, but also a requirement to go beyond what justice alone requires and thus show mercy. St. Thomas summed the principal up quite well. “God is both infinitely merciful and infinitely just. When He acts mercifully, He does not act against justice, but goes beyond it.” So to God desires the same from us (cf. Hosea 6:6; Mathew 9:13 and 12:7), asking that we are BOTH just AND merciful,“forgiving seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22), which in essence means always. After all, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:3-10).
Faith and Works: It first must be clearly stated that salvation cannot be earned. It is by God’s grace – completely unmerited by works – that justification, sanctification and salvation occur. However, that does not entirely eliminate works from the equation.
Backing up, Scripture can seem contradictory on this topic. James says, “See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). And later: “For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (2:26). But how can the same Scripture which tells us that “a person is justified by works” turn around and tell us that “we have been justified by faith” (cf. Rom. 5:1)? Or how can it be that Scripture tell us on the one hand that we will each be judged according to our works (cf. Rom. 2:6; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 20:13) – with Christ himself coming at the end of time to judge the nations and separating the sheep from the goats according to how they have responded in love to the needs of “the least of these”: the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the imprisoned etc. (cf. Matt 25:31-46) – and yet, on the other hand, Christ tells us in John 17:3 that, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
So how to solve this seeming contradiction? Once more, salvation is a free gift of God’s grace, yet we can either receive that gift or reject it, since we are endowed with free will. Scripture tells us that God “wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4), yet we know that not all men will what God wills for them, namely salvation. As such, we must respond to and cooperate with God’s grace – and this is through faith AND works. For mere “belief” is no faith at all, since, to quote James again, “even the devils believe in the one true God” (2:19). But at the same time, works without faith is likewise useless since, as Scripture also tells us, “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).
In summary, God initiates, but we must respond. Salvation is the free gift of God, but we must accept it. God’s action always precedes on own. He stirs in us both the desire for himself (faith) and the ability to act on that desire (good works) that we might freely choose to respond to His love, since it is He who loved us first (cf. 1 John 4:19), and He who so loved us that He gave us His only begotten Son that we might have eternal life in him.
Peace and Division: Christ is the ultimate Prince of Peace. However, his peace is not an earthly peace, for as he himself declares: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, do I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid.”
The world’s peace is often a sham peace since it is not based on the truth of Christ, but rather on the compromise of men. The world’s peace is best summed up in phrases such as “To each his own” or “Live and let live” or “Go along to get along.” In other words, peace in a worldly sense is a lack of turmoil born of toleration for difference of opinion. Peace, for the world, hinges therefore on “relativism” – the idea that truth is subjective, that each man is his own criterion of truth – and therefore societal peace is to be achieved by respecting each man’s “truth” by reaching agreements or in essence agreeing to disagree.
But the peace which Christ gives cannot be such, for since he is Truth Incarnate, his followers cannot be content to let each man be the standard of his own truth, to be the arbiter of what is right and wrong or what is or is not necessary for salvation.
Hence, The Lord tells us that if we choose to follow him then we must be prepared to do battle with the opposing forces, many of whom will be members of our own families. It is not easy to be a true follower of Christ; it will be divisive and difficult. We must, as he told us, “deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him” (Matthew 16:24). And also he warns us that because we choose him over the world, and thus “Truth” over “truth,” then the world will mock, revile and persecute us just as it did to him. Hence, following Christ and the Truth comes at a heavy price!
Luke 12: 51 – 53 states, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
You see, Christ doesn’t permit us to live “comfortably” in a sham peace of mere “co-existence.” Indeed, he warns us that, “because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:16). We cannot have Christ and have compromise with things opposed to Christ. For “what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial” (2 Cor. 6:14-15)?
But we can still rest assured because the Lord tells us time and time again, “Be not afraid, I go before you always, come follow me, and I will give you rest.” If we battle for the sake of the Lord here on earth, the sacrifices will be great, the casualties many, but the peaceful reward everlasting.
Scripture and Tradition: Scripture itself tells us that not all of the things that Jesus said and did were written down (cf. John 21:24-25). The irony of believing Scripture alone as the sole authority in matters of faith is that the Bible does not affirm this teaching. Indeed, the Scriptures as we know them today were not officially compiled and codified until late in the fourth century at the councils of Hippo (circa 393 AD) and Carthage (circa 397 AD), and the individual books themselves were often not written down till decades after the Resurrection. This must have meant that the earliest Christians believed not because of the testimony of Scripture, since it was not yet written down, but rather upon the “oral witness” of the apostles and their followers. For indeed, as Scripture itself attests, “faith comes by way of hearing” (Rom. 10:17).
Thus, sacred Scripture and sacred Tradition are both to be accepted as divine revelation and should be equally revered. There is a close connection between the two. They flow from the same divine wellspring (The Word of God made flesh) and progress toward the same end.
A crude, yet somewhat effective analogy is receiving a cookbook that has been passed down in your family for generations. The recipes have been written down in the book for many years, but in addition, your Mother tells you the secret recipe to the family’s famous cookies. Are these cookies not a valid family recipe because they have not been put in the actual cookbook? Of course, not. Just because the mode of transmission is different, the recipe is not nullified and so too it is with sacred Oral Tradition.
Or as Paul so neatly and succinctly puts it: “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
Faith and Reason: While seemingly contradictory, these actually go hand in hand. There are mysteries of Christianity that we cannot fully understand (The Trinity, the Incarnation etc.), and thus we must have faith. However, we still need to use our reason to better understand our faith. God gave us brains and expects us to use them to understand the mysteries of the faith to the extent which it is possible. We are to have “faith that seeks understanding” – as Anselm put it – while understanding that in order for faith to remain as such we will never be able to completely grasp those most mysterious objects of our faith.
While faith can’t contradict reason, faith tells us more than we could ever know by reason alone. Hence, we can know by reason alone and from the witness of creation that God exists (cf. Rom. 1:20), but reason alone cannot tell us that this one true God is three divine persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We see, then, that faith, far from stultifying reason, actually aids it in its ultimate search for truth. Faith is on the “far side of reason”, moving reason beyond its own narrow confines. Faith frees reason from its material, earth-bound cage in order that it might reach transcendent heights it otherwise could not reach on its own strength.
In conclusion, truth is known or grasped through faith and reason. The absence of either one will diminish man’s ability to know himself, the world and God. Faith closed off to reason is mere credulity, while reason that rejects the aid of faith is stunted and deprived of attaining the highest truths – the truths of salvation and the things of God. The late Pope John Paul II summarizes it well. “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”
These are just a few of the beautiful BOTH/AND paradoxes that make up Christianity. Honestly, the list could honestly go on and on…
God is Transcendent and Immanent
Jesus is Son of Man and Son of God
God is one Divine Nature and Three Divine Persons
The Bible is the Word of God and Authored by Humans
The Gospels are Historical and Theological
When we are Weak, then we are Strong
We need to lose our lives in order to find them
All of these paradoxical BOTH/AND themes may create tension and difficulty in our lives at first, but ultimately will lead to cohesion and a vibrant faith. And that leaves us with the final paradox of living our lives for the Lord and following Jesus: it is both an act of simple trust and an adventure of unimaginable complexity.