‘This sentence is false. The previous sentence is true.’
What happens if Pinocchio says: “My nose will now grow?”
There really is nothing more puzzling than a good paradox.
I’d very much like now to turn my attention to Wittgenstein’s and Moore’s paradoxes - but I haven’t the space (that’s my excuse anyhow!). What I have found in experience, particularly as I’ve entered ‘middle age’ or have started ‘Falling Upwards’ as Richard Rohr describes it (book of the same name), is that spiritual paradoxes are more intriguing than mathematical, linguistic or scientific ones.
On Trinity Sunday, in Brechin Cathedral, I had the privilege of listening to the Rev’d Dr. Johnstone McKay preach on the paradox of ‘The Trinity’. McKay’s message is simply that we,as mortals are not yet spiritually ripened to understand such complexity. He draws on King Lear’s advice to Cordelia (Shakespeare) where Lear beseeches his daughter to “take upon ‘s the mystery of things, As if we were God’s spies....” Simply put,it is more ‘faith-full’ to accept a paradox that to torture ourselves taming it.
Spiritual paradoxes surface everyday. From early church experience and family life I realised that what was inherently self-contradictory often proved spiritually enlightening; the more I gave the more I was given. It is a spiritual axiom that by facing fear we expose it as illusory. By suffering hardship we are hardened to suffering. The more time I spend on my knees the taller I walk, and in shedding tears in the company of another troubled soul the more likely both “our tears will be turned into dancing”.
The spiritual life presents many paradoxes. We should be alert to, explore and be strengthened by them.
Christianity is peppered with paradox; it is rooted in divine mysteries and paradox is the language of mystery. We participate in the mysteries of God by inhabiting paradoxes. Paul the Apostle wrote: “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). How can Paul be both weak and strong at the same time? Are we speaking of a kind of strength that goes beyond comprehension - that arises from participating in Christian living and only visible to “God’s spies”?
The humble are exalted. The exalted are humbled (Luke 14: 11).
Lose your life to find it. Find your life and lose it (Matthew 10:39).
The poor are rich (James 2:5).
The weak are strong. “...for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
“The last shall be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:16; Mark 9:35).
Then there is the spiritual poetry of The Beatitudes of course (Matthew 5:1-12).
Finally, and to close on a lighter note: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35). In fact as well as featuring in Acts 20:35, this paradox, by his own admission, is repeated annually in the Christmas cards sent to my favourite comedian, Ken Dodd, by the tax man!
There really is nothing more uplifting and affirming than a good (spiritual) paradox.
Blessings to the good folk of Montrose.
Dr John B. Cavanagh
Rector - Montrose Academy