Sunday, January 11, 2009

What is a Paradox?

A paradox is something that is beyond belief! It sounds contradictory and surprising but may actually be true. It comes from two Greek roots. "Para" literally means going beyond or past the root word, implying that it is contradictory or abnormal. The Greek "Dox" means a belief or opinion, as in orthodoxy. Unlike orthodoxy, which means the "right" belief, paradox means that it is "beyond" belief.

Whereas Modernism is all about Orthodoxy, Postmodernism is all about Paradoxes!Postmodernism rejects the clearcut certainty of modernism. The postmodern world loves the contradictions and complexities of reality.

The “Right” Belief“Beyond” Belief

Jesus loved paradoxes. In fact, his sermon on the mountainside started with a list of spiritual paradoxes (Matthew 5):
  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed (Happy) are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
  • Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
God and the universe is full of paradoxes. In order to fathom the depth of God and his creation, we should seek out and understand these paradoxes.

That is why we need to approach the Bible through the lens of paradoxes to gain greater insights. Looking for paradoxes can help us gain new spiritual insights. According to Wikipedia: "The paradox as a literary device has been defined as an anomalous juxtaposition of incongruous ideas for the sake of striking exposition or unexpected insight. It functions as a method of literary analysis which involves examining apparently contradictory statements and drawing conclusions either to reconcile them or to explain their presence."

Within the framework of a story, incongruencies or "ironies" are used to make people think and face the inconsistencies of reality. In his book Comedy and Preaching, Joseph Webb describes some common literary incongruencies:

The Anticipated and the Unanticipated
"A first form of incongruity is that found between the anticipated and the unanticipated. One looks for something that happened that was unexpected. In the midst of one’s routines, of going about one’s business as one does day in and day out, where were the unanticipated interruptions?"

Ambition vs. Achievement
"Somebody has a desire to do great things but either fails or is thwarted. For example, I want to learn to sing, but my teacher has to have a lot of patience; or how I always talk about preaching but my friends have never heard me preach; or I aspired to be an actor, but I failed my acting audition. It is the ability to laugh at our weaknesses, and yet still have hope. In one’s heart one lives another life, a 'secret' life, one that seems to remain forever an exalted, imaginary life, but is a reflection of what God has designed us for."

The Ideal and the Actual
"We want our ideals to be big things; we construct them as large as possible and set them out in front of us to call to us and pull us; and yet, in actuality, they are never what we think they are."

Individual vs. Institution
"This is the struggle between a person and a giant bureaucracy, the isolated person and the system. One’s ideals continuously thwarted by the overpowering, impersonal bureaucracy or one’s ambitions never achieved as a result of one’s resources being continually drained by the tax machine or by some conniving boss at the top of the bureaucratic heap."

The Normal and the Abnormal
"It is the juxtaposition of the normal with the abnormal, such as a man trying to function in a woman’s world in order to get an acting job in a soap opera."

(Excerpts from Joseph Webb's Comedy and Preaching)

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