Holy Week is a truncated march toward the cross; a time intended to focus the mind and heart on the significance of the most monumental event in human history. Again, Christ is either “everything,” or He is “nothing.” Everyone must choose between the two—it’s a binary choice. Nevertheless, Jesus is presented to us in curious ways that force us to pause and consider. It’s both deep and simple. A hasty look at Him will inevitably cause us to miss the point. There is, of course, always mystery with an infinite God. Moreover, there is also a great deal of paradox with which we must contend. G. K. Chesterton described a paradox as “truth standing on its head to gain attention.” So, God the Father starts the paradoxical challenge of Christ by sending His Son, the second person of the Godhead, into the world. So who is He? Is Christ God, or man? Chesterton writes,
For orthodox theology has specially insisted that Christ was not a being apart from God and man, like an elf, nor yet a being half human and half not, like a centaur, but both things at once and both things thoroughly, very man and very God.1
The truth is that Christ was the God-Man, fully God and fully man. A great mystery, but who could worship a God who wasn’t full of mystery? He will, necessarily, have to reveal Himself, which HE has done in the God-man, Jesus Christ. Dr. J. Gresham Machen elaborates:
How can we discover whether there is a God at all? I have something rather simple to say about that question at the very start. It is something that seems to me to be rather obvious, and yet it is something that is quite generally ignored. It is simply this—that if we are really to know anything about God it will probably be because God has chosen to tell it to us. Many persons seem to go on a very different assumption. They seem to think that if they are to know anything about God they must discover God for themselves. That assumption seems to me to be extremely unlikely. Just supposing for the sake of argument that there is a being of such a kind as that He may with any propriety be called “God,” it does seem antecedently very improbable that weak and limited creatures of a day, such as we are, should discover Him by our own efforts without any will on His part to make Himself known to us. At least, I think we can say that a god who could be discovered in that way would hardly be worth discovering. A mere passive subject of human investigation is certainly not a living God who can satisfy the longing of our souls… A divine being that could be discovered by my efforts, apart from His gracious will to reveal Himself to me and to others, would be either a mere name for a certain aspect of man’s own nature, a God that we could find within us, or else at best a mere passive thing that would be subject to investigation like the substances that are analyzed in a laboratory. I think we ought to stick to that principle rather firmly. I think we ought to be rather sure that we cannot know God unless God has been pleased to reveal Himself to us.2
When we’re confronted with this wondrous mystery, the only appropriate response is bow and not to arch our backs.
Darrow Miller writes of another example of the great paradox of Christ, which is the cross. “God is both righteousness and love. God’s righteousness means that man’s sinfulness must be punished. God’s love means that God will take that punishment on Himself. It is the cross where God’s love and justice meet…. Chesterton captures this when he writes that life demands the maintenance of a tension between God’s righteousness and His love. Each is a bright color that needs to be manifest in all its glory. And the ultimate glory is the cross.”3
[The church] has kept [seeming paradoxes] side by side like two strong colours, red and white, like the red and white upon the shield of St. George. It has always had a healthy hatred of pink. It hates that combination of two colours which is the feeble expedient of the philosophers. It hates that evolution of black into white which is tantamount to a dirty grey … All that I am urging here can be expressed by saying that Christianity sought in most of these cases to keep two colours co-existent but pure. It is not a mixture like russet or purple; it is rather like a shot silk, for a shot silk is always at right angles, and is in the pattern of the cross.4
The beauty of the shot silk is in the two colors being vivid and pure in themselves and woven together in right angles, producing a beautiful and iridescent appearance.
Here’s one more example of the paradox of Christ, which Chesterton draws to our attention:
The sin and the sinner – Christianity came in here as before. It came in startlingly with a sword, and clove one thing from another. It divided the crime from the criminal. The criminal we must forgive unto seventy times seven. The crime we must not forgive at all … We must be much more angry with theft than before, and yet much kinder to thieves than before. There was room for wrath and love to run wild. And the more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.5
The primary “good thing” is the gospel, which is the good news! Mystery and paradox point to Christ and His saving work. He is everything!
HYMN: Come, Behold the Wondrous Mystery6
Come, behold the wondrous myst’ry, in the dawning of the King;
He the theme of heaven’s praises, robed in frail humanity.
In our longing, in our darkness, now the light of life has come;
Look to Christ, who condescended, took on flesh to ransom us.
Come, behold the wondrous myst’ry, He the perfect Son of Man;
In His living, in His suff’ring never trace nor stain of sin.
See the true and better Adam, come to save the hell-bound man;
Christ, the great and sure fulfillment of the law, in Him we stand.
Come, behold the wondrous myst’ry, Christ the Lord upon the tree,
In the stead of ruined sinners, hangs the Lamb in victory.
See the price of our redemption, see the Father’s plan unfold;
Bringing many sons to glory, grace unmeasured, love untold.
Come, behold the wondrous myst’ry, slain by death the God of life;
But no grave could e’er re strain Him. Praise the Lord, He is alive!
What a foretaste of deliv’rance, how unwavering our hope;
Christ in power resurrected, as we will be, when He comes.
- Chesterton, G. K. K. Chesterton Collection 40 Works: Innocence of Father Brown, Wisdom of Father Brown, The Ball and the Cross, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Crimes of England, The Man Who Was Thursday, and MORE! (Kindle Locations 47225-47227). Doma Publishing House. Kindle Edition.
- Machen, Gresham, The Christian Faith in the Modern World, 1936.
- Miller, Darrow, “Chesterton, Paradox and Truth,” (http://darrowmillerandfriends.com/2019/03/14/chesterton-paradox-truth/) This blog post is drawn from this article.
- Chesterton, Ibid: Kindle Locations 47312-47318.
- Chesterton, Ibid: Kindle Locations 47280-47285.
- Come, Behold the Wondrous Mystery, Words and Music: Matt Papa, Matt Boswell and Michael Bleecker. 2013 McKinney Music. Inc. (Admin. by Music Services. Inc.) Love Your Enemies Publishing. The Village Church. All rights reserved.