If we were made for relationship with God, why do we often feel lost and distant from Him?
The life of Christian faith is and always has been a beautifully awkward reality. Following Jesus is done—can only be done—in the messiness of this world into which we were all born. Yet many Christians expect the walk of faith to be easier, neater, and relatively devoid of hassles.
So perhaps it’s time for a frank conversation about the true nature of Christian faith. Maybe there are many desperately in need of a clear dialogue about how—despite living in a turbulent, chaotic world—our greatest joy is found in our pursuit of God.
In The Grand Paradox, Ken Wytsma seeks to help readers understand that although God can be mysterious, He is in no way absent.
- God’s ways are contradictory and counter to the way the world tells us to pursue happiness.
- Doubt is okay, it will accompany in the life of faith.
- What looks like struggle can actually be the most important and meaningful season of our lives.
This book is an exploration of the art of living by faith. It is a book for all those wrestling with the paradoxes that confront those who seek to walk with Christ. It’s an honest look at how faith works, here and now, in our culture, our time—and how to put down real roots and flourish in the midst of our messy lives.
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
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About the Author
Ken Wytsma is a leader, innovator, and social entrepreneur. He is the president of Kilns College, where he teaches courses on philosophy and justice. He is the founder of The Justice Conferencea yearly international conference that exposes men and women to a wide range of organizations and conversations relating to justice and the biblical call to give our lives away. Ken is also a church planter and the lead pastor at Antioch Church. He and his wife, Tamara, have four daughters.
Read an Excerpt
The Grand Paradox
The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God and the Necessity of Faith
By Ken Wytsma
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2015 Ken Wytsma
All rights reserved.
I find that doing the will of God leaves me no time for disputing about His plans. —George MacDonald
Throughout history, the Old City of Jerusalem has been viewed as the heart of the world. Today as you leave the Old City and drive east on the winding Highway 1, you begin a dramatic descent from the hill country into the desert. The change in elevation has a significant effect on weather conditions, creating a visible distinction between the lush, green Jerusalem to the west and the severe, dusty, desert climate of the West Bank to the east. The change in vegetation is so drastic that it can be seen from satellites in space.
As you enter this desert, where Bedouin shepherds have roamed for thousands of years, you soon come across the security checkpoint separating Israel from the West Bank. As you enter Area A of the West Bank, an area under full Palestinian control, a red sign forbids entrance to Israelis at the risk of death. Here Highway 1 joins the historic Jericho Road.
Continuing on, you enter the Jordan Rift Valley. The Jordan Rift is distinct but connected to the Great Rift Valley that extends all the way from Mozambique through Egypt and reaches its lowest point at the Dead Sea. Just eleven miles from Jerusalem you'll pass an archaeological site of a hostel halfway between Jerusalem and Jericho. Tradition says it is the inn where the parable of the good Samaritan took place, and hence is named the Inn of the Good Samaritan.
Another fourteen miles from there, in an oasis of the Jordan Valley, lie the ancient ruins of what is said to be the oldest continually inhabited city in the world—the city of Jericho.
This area, a part of the larger Judean wilderness, is characterized by rugged terrain that offered safe hiding for rebels, bandits, and outcasts in ancient times. The first inhabitants were nomads who transitioned from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle among the caves and hills to a city-dwelling society, as agriculture was made possible by the proximity of the Jericho oasis. With a warm climate year-round and natural springwater irrigation allowing for lush agriculture, "the city of palm trees" was in a desirable location worth settling in and certainly worth protecting.
Historically, Jericho was a walled city known throughout antiquity for its defensive capability. If you go there now and walk to the middle of the mound where there has been extensive excavation since the early 1900s, you can look over the ledge and see an exposed portion of one of the original towers of Jericho that dates back to the Neolithic period. The tower is said to be the oldest stone-built structure of its kind in the world.
Jericho is mentioned fifty-nine times in Scripture. It was the city of refuge where David told his servants to stay until their beards grew back, after they were publicly humiliated by the Ammonite king. Jesus healed the blind man Bartimaeus along the roadside outside of the city, and it was in Jericho that Zacchaeus climbed up into the sycamore tree in an attempt to see Christ. There's an old sycamore tree in the center of town today that tourists visit, and many believe it is the one Zacchaeus climbed.
But the most prominent and important narrative associated with Jericho deals with the events leading up to and immediately following its conquest by the Israelites under Joshua. It is not only a history with significance for the people of Israel; it also offers profound lessons for the church and for every believer who is moving forward in faith toward the calling God has given.
As a foundation for The Grand Paradox, we can look at the events surrounding Joshua and Jericho. Before we can discuss the many aspects of walking by faith, we need to ground ourselves in the very same lessons that God took such pains to teach Joshua and the generation of Israelites that were with him at Jericho.
After forty years of wandering, Moses died and leadership was passed to Joshua. God gave Joshua very specific instructions about how the Jordan River crossing was to take place. The priests bearing the ark of the covenant were to lead the crossing, thus demonstrating to everyone that the presence of the Lord of all the earth was to go first.
After the entire camp crossed the river, men from each tribe were sent back with instructions to retrieve twelve large stones from the riverbed to be piled up and to serve as a memorial; the people were commanded to never forget the miracle—of holding back the Jordan River waters—God performed that day and to tell it to their children for generations to come.
Rather than rushing into the military campaign, God took the time to illustrate something important to His people: He goes first, and they are to follow.
He leads, and we follow.
* * *
Upon crossing the Jordan, the Israelites renewed their covenant vows of obedience to God, spending their first weeks in the promised land realigning their relationship with Him. They were ready to take the land, starting with the city of Jericho. But Joshua was about to undergo a dramatic course correction. An angel with an unsheathed sword appeared to Joshua just outside Jericho. Apparently that wasn't enough to intimidate Joshua, so he challenged, "Whose side are you on: ours or our enemies'?"
But Joshua was missing the point. The angel responded, "Neither ... but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come" (Joshua 5:14). And Joshua fell to his face in reverence.
Engrossed in the stress and sweat of planning the first military conquest in the promised land, Joshua was literally brought to his knees by God's reminder that it wasn't his battle. Likewise, any of us can forget that we are part of a bigger narrative. We can easily fall prey to stress, pain, or pressure, allowing obstacles to loom larger in our vision than the God who is trying to lead us. We are reminded through Joshua's example: the battle is the Lord's.
* * *
Israel's soldiers gathered to hear the plan. Their courageous leader delivered the brilliant strategy: March in circles around the city for seven days. Blow horns, make music, and yell. Wait for the walls to collapse.
I doubt the plan was received well. This is not a brilliant military strategy; this is a death wish. The city of Jericho was well fortified and difficult to assault.
Yet, instead of relying on human strength and ability, Joshua gambled on obedience and trust in God, and the walls fell on the seventh day.
There is no question about the source of the victory. God went to great lengths to show Joshua and the Israelites whose battle it was. He has sent the message over and over—"This enterprise is Mine, not yours."
* * *
As the Israelites invaded Jericho, God gave them specific instructions to set aside any precious metals among the spoils as a sacrifice to Him. Everything else was to be destroyed.
"But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things." One man in particular, Achan, did not trust in the goodness of God's commands. He was overtaken by greed. He began to rationalize his desires, and in the end, he chose to ignore God's command, break the covenant, and keep some of the spoil. He took what he saw—put himself at the center and pushed God out to the margins.
This one seemingly small slip of individualism and greed caused a domino effect of pain and suffering for Achan, his family, and the entire army of Israel.
The covenant was broken and God's anger burned against the nation.
We're not much different from Achan. We labor and contrive, grounding our plans in our own reason and intellect, our own sense of entitlement. We struggle with our greed and desires. We want to pocket more stuff. After all, we have earned it, haven't we?
But that's not how it's supposed to be.
THE LORD AT THE CENTER
It is God who goes first, and as He leads, we follow. We stand on God's side—not Him on ours. God razes the walls; only in His strength do we find victory.
As with Joshua and all God's children, we need to acknowledge that He demands the place of primacy in our lives—in our communities, our conquests, our achievements, our thoughts and desires.
This message—that the Lord is at the center—reverberates throughout Scripture, from the account of Jericho to the narratives of the judges, the kings, and the exile. When the Lord was placed at the center, the people flourished and were blessed; whenever they turned their backs on Him, they experienced defeat, turmoil, slavery, and exile.
We find the same message in imperative form in the Ten Commandments delivered a generation earlier to Moses. Of the ten, the first three deal with the centrality of God.
This theme is delivered poetically in numerous psalms and proverbs, such as Psalm 111:10, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (KJV).
Even the name of the lead character in the Jericho account teaches a lesson. The Hebrew name Joshua literally means, "The Lord is salvation." And as the metanarrative of scripture rolls on, we see this same message in the person of Christ. From the Hebrew name Joshua comes the Greek name Jesus—the One who is our salvation.
In the end, as Paul penned in Romans 11:36: "For from him and through him and to him are all things."
For much of history, Christians have seen the crucifixion as humanity's crucial moment. Christ's death and resurrection are the most important events not only in church history, but in all of human history. (As a side note, crucifixion, crux, and crucial share the same Latin root, all pointing to the idea of a cross.)
All scripture points to one thing: life is about God. The process of moving from confused wandering to purpose and joy is marked by faith, by waiting on the Lord in ready obedience.
Recently, my wife, Tamara, and I circled up with our four girls for bedtime prayers. As is the norm, I asked the girls what they were thankful for, and then proceeded to see who would be willing to pray for the family.
Our youngest, Ashlin, who was a week away from five years old enthusiastically asked to pray. We all smiled and waited for her to begin.
She started off in a loud and happy voice: "I'm thank you for my sister Mary Joy. I'm thank you for my sister Esther. I'm thank you for my sister Sara. I'm thank you for my mommy, Mommy. And I'm thank you for my daddy, Daddy."
It was hard to keep her sisters from giggling, but we all appreciated her words and heart enough to keep the chuckles in and allow her to finish as she "thank-you'd" God for the rest of our family and church.
Her transposition of thankful into thank you seemed like an innocent and sincere slip of phrasing. It made me think, however, that it was also deep and maybe theological.
Ashlin has the faith of a child. The things she is thankful for are truly, in her mind, thank-yous to God.
It reminded me of the book of James, where Jesus' brother wrote, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights." Paul also encouraged us to present our requests to God "with thanksgiving" (Philippians 4:6).
Maybe there's a subtle difference between thankful and thanksgiving. Perhaps the former is more about my emotion and experience of gratitude than the latter, which is directed toward the one responsible for our blessing.
Maybe there's a difference in our hearts between thankful and thank you.
Whether there's a deep theological distinction here or not, that night my little angel brought tears to my eyes and taught her dad about purity of heart and what it looks like to truly be thank you to God.
WHERE WE'RE HEADED
Life finds its harmony when we're centered on God, walking in faith, and experiencing the fullness of life He designed for us to experience.
From here we'll begin examining what the Bible and some of the great Christian thinkers have to say about faith, and what that means in light of preconceived ideas about Christianity and given our place in the context of contemporary culture. In doing so, we will answer some of Christians' most heartfelt questions:
Do we have the wrong definition of faith? (chap. 3)
How do I talk to God? More important, how do I hear from God? (chap. 4)
What is God up to in this world? (chap. 5)
Do I have to give up the things that make me happy to have faith? (chap. 6)
I have doubts ... does that mean I don't have faith? (chap. 7)
What is God calling me, personally, to do? (chaps. 8 and 9)
This world is crazy ... how am I supposed to live for God? (chaps. 10 and 11)
Do we really need church? (chap. 12)
What is it all for? (chaps. 13, 14, 15)
But first we need to look at how irrational and upside down walking by faith can truly seem.CHAPTER 2
Such welcome and unwelcome things at once 'Tis hard to reconcile. —William Shakespeare
In the 1500s, there lived a wealthy statesman named Michel de Montaigne. Over a short period of time, he lost his best friend and five of his six children. In 1571, he retired from public life and, during a reclusion that lasted nearly ten years, he explored and wrote about the most troubling aspects of human experience and existence. He called these short writings essays (French for "trial" or "attempt"), thereby inventing the modern writing form essay.
In his writings, Montaigne revived a form of skepticism from Ancient Greece that posited the apparent contradictions and inscrutability of life's great questions. A more recent book by Sarah Bakewell—How to Live: Or, A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer—resurrects Montaigne's insights. One age-old central question—"How should we live?"—and twenty attempts at an answer amid the messiness of life ... all in one amusingly honest title.
Montaigne was one among many of the great thinkers and writers in history who discovered that life is fraught with paradox. And so is faith.
FAITH AS PARADOX
A paradox is an apparent contradiction, a statement about reality that seems antithetical. Some paradoxes are common and well understood. We all know what it means to speak of a memory or a victory or a relationship as "bittersweet." And most entrepreneurs understand that "to make money, you have to spend money."
Between ages three and six, I lived in Holland. For me, the memories of that time and place are just like the movie portrayals of the Netherlands—windmills, tulips, and frozen dikes and canals on which to skate during long, cold winters. We even had a small pond some hundred feet from our back door that froze every winter.
Because I was so young, my mom was careful to communicate time and again the danger of falling through thin ice while skating. She repeatedly taught me that if I ever fell through the ice, I should swim for the dark—not the light—spot above me. This is certainly counterintuitive, but the ice itself looks white from underneath, while the hole in the ice—the path of salvation—appears dark.
Walking by faith rather than sight requires awareness that our eyes can play tricks, reality can be deceiving, and the true path is often counterintuitive.
Life isn't always logically grounded. Often, we're hopelessly lost in the nuance and uncertainty of life. The result is, we're all hungry for concrete answers to deep questions: Why am I here? What is God's will for my life? And as we discussed in the last chapter, how do I really follow God in areas where it feels absurd?
SCRIPTURE DOESN'T HELP
The paradoxical nature of reality is reflected in Scripture. God's Word doesn't sweep the confusing nature of life under the rug, but instead frames the paradox even more explicitly.
Consider these two verses from Luke:
"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." (2:14)
"Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division." (12:51)
This bizarre contradiction is between two verses in the same book. Jesus says something even more inflammatory later, in Luke 14:26: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple." Why is one of the Ten Commandments to honor your parents if Jesus says to hate them?
Logic might lead us to simply dismiss Jesus at this point, but look at what He did in His final moments, while hanging on the cross: "When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, 'Woman, here is your son,' and to the disciple, 'Here is your mother.' From that time on, this disciple took her into his home" (John 19:26–27). If Jesus wants everyone to hate his or her mother, why did He take such loving care of His own mother?
Excerpted from The Grand Paradox by Ken Wytsma. Copyright © 2015 Ken Wytsma. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: This Beautiful Mess xix
Chapter 1 Jericho 1
Chapter 2 Paradox 9
Chapter 3 What Kierkegaard Knew 17
Chapter 4 Wisdom's Folly 29
Chapter 5 A World Made Right 41
Chapter 6 Virtue, the Greeks, and the Meaning of Happiness 55
Chapter 7 Doubt 65
Chapter 8 Personal Calling and Mission 81
Chapter 8 Love Is Never Wrong 93
Chapter 10 Complexity and the Limits of Human Understanding 103
Chapter 11 Cultural Landscapes 115
Chapter 12 Mother Kirk 131
Chapter 13 Outside Looking In 143
Chapter 14 Spiritual Fatigue (Or, the Dark Night of the Soul) 157
Chapter 15 Blessing Come Late 171
Chapter 16 Between the Gardens 185
About the Author 209
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Grand Paradox has a grand vision: To unpack faith and its role in the modern world. The title gives a hint, but only a hint, to the answer. It's the refreshingly authentic narrative the book follows that is truly impressive. What seems like a daunting goal – describing the nature of faith and spiritual life – quickly becomes a fascination and encouraging guide to the Christian life. Rather than growing too esoteric or pedantic, Wytsma fills his book with relatable anecdotes and down-to-earth language. Certainly Paradox attempts to explain some of the mysteries of life, God, and faith - but it also encourages readers to enjoy those mysteries, to thrive in the midst of doubt, chaos and distraction. Never has spirituality seemed such a part of the the day-to-day living we all go through. It's no surprise, then, that what stands out most in The Grand Paradox is its accessibility. The chapters on doubt and Spiritual Fatigue will encourage weary Christians and offer a gateway for those unfamiliar or apprehensive concerning Christian beliefs. The chapters Between the Gardens, A World Made Right, and Personal Calling and Mission will speak directly to Christians of all flavors on how to joyfully make a difference in the world while holding hope for spiritual realities. The chapters on social media, the modern world, and the role of faith with resonate with modern, anxious young believers eager to help change the world but unsure of where to start. Wytsma has created a book that has a message for everyone. Yes, there is some heady stuff here. Wytsma does not back away from discussing the beliefs of early church fathers, key points of ancient philosophy, or detailed exegesis. Fortunately, these sections tend to support rather than distract from the main points, which revolve around a much-welcome practicality. Interspersed with deeper stuff are refreshingly honest, personal accounts of travels, friends, family and past experiences. They help ground the story, and I found them not only entertaining but also frequently educational. So, what we have here is an unusual thing: A book that, in taking the side of God and faith, seems to be on everyone's side. The Biblical values are authentic, but the message is happily timeless. If you aren't considering picking this book up for yourself, I would at least consider buying it for a friend or family member interested in a real, meaningful discussion on life, faith, God, and ultimately the search for meaning.
Going through this book flipped upside down all of my ideas about what to expect from a life of following Christ. I guess the examples were always there: Paul, Elijah...Jesus. But I still struggle with expecting my life to turn out great because I'm a Christian. Crazy book. Will be thinking about these ideas for a long time.
Ken Wytsma's second book, The Grand Paradox is a refreshing reminder of why I choose the Christian faith. Ken is honest, affirming, challenging, and timely as he walks through paradoxes that sometimes throw us off course. Indeed, the messiness of life is inevitable. We stumble through confusing seasons of life, and personal struggle. Many times we are swept up in the flood of cultural tide. The pain and injustice in our world can so overwhelm us that we don't know how to continue putting one foot in front of the other. God is still who He says He is. This book allows the reader a safe place to wrestle with faith and doubt and come to a point where he or she can hold both with confident tension. I highly recommend The Grand Paradox, wherever one might be on their journey of faith.
This book is not a spiritual "Whole 30", or a "10 steps to a better you", or any of those follow the rules & your life will be awesome types of self help programs that we Americans seem love so much... nope. This book is a reset button. Honestly, I believe this book is so relevant to where we are as a culture. I personally feel that this book has reset my faith back to how God originally planted it in me. The Grand Paradox is scripturally based, free of clichés, full of honest truths and real answers. - Lori Scearcy, Roots of Integrity
Ken Wytsma’s latest, <>, is not another “here’s the *real* answer” amid the myriad of “conspiracy” titled books about Christianity and/or the Christian faith that have been released in recent years; it’s a “both-and,” “wrestle with the tension,” “it’s okay to have *honest* doubt” book that is sure to help and encourage both those who currently struggle with their faith and those who could use (need?) that every-so-often, honest look at their current state of being with our creator. Ken has written in an easily accessible manner by which anyone should be able to understand the book’s message without being further confused by his or her own paradoxical state. For some, it may answer, rework, and/or redirect questions, perhaps even give from another’s perspective the permission needed to simply *have* questions; what it won’t do is encourage the kind unhealthy doubt and skepticism that comes from a position of insincere and dishonest inquiry. This one comes highly recommended by the six pages of endorsements at the beginning of the book (maybe not as over-the-top as I initially thought) and myself. Read, enjoy, and be uplifted. In a more personal note, I received a copy of the book from Ken over two weeks ago to review and take part in the book launch. Due to other obligations and reading that didn’t get done as soon as I’d planned, I didn’t get to it until today—the day of the launch! So, first things first, I hit my usual spot in the café on the campus of a local Christian college where I like to spend time interacting with students, many of whom use the space for dialogue and inquiry not so much encouraged elsewhere on campus. I begin reading and about a third of the way through I immediately begin thinking of a student who quit and left the school at the end of last semester due to many questions that could not and would not be answered in her previous environment, only to quit going to any church altogether as she wrestles with her faith. I highlight the passage, get one more page into the book, and who should walk into the café but the long absent student back to visit friends! I hop up, exclaim the providential nature of our meeting, have her read the section, and immediately receive affirmation of her relation to the text. I get her mailing address and immediately after finishing the book order a copy for her, marking the first time I’ve done such a thing, and on it’s launch date no less! Take this as you will, and let it stand as a further stamp of my humble approval.
Faith is always tricky. We want to sell the best elements of it to people. Often though we are short changing people for when faith intersects with the harsher realities of life. Ken gives a fuller understanding of what faith is as presented in the scriptures. He shows how God is with us in the good the bad, not that he just makes us happy but that he is there to move us through reality. This will be a transformational book for those dealing with lives pains as they learn to deal with the tough questions that come with that pain, and understand this is all part of faith.
Every so often a book is so well written and applicable to my life, I wish I could have it committed to memory. The Grand Paradox is full of lessons I needed to learn and re-learn. The Christian faith means something different to each individual, it seems. We've figured out a way to make everything about God personal - as if He exists for us rather than the other way around. Wytsma challenges me to not ask what God's will is FOR my life, but instead ask God how I can serve Him WITH my life. Reading The Grand Paradox changed my way of thinking. It lessoned the pressure of always wondering "Am I doing the right thing? The wrong thing? Which way do I go, God?" and instead to walk forward in faith and trust. I am thankful to have this book in my personal library. I'll need it for reference more than once, I'm sure.