3 Paradoxes We Experience in the Kingdom of God

Young person looking through leaves. Paradoxes in the kingdom of God.

Things are not always as they appear, especially in the kingdom of God. The carpenter’s son is truthfully the Son of God. An apparently tragic end in defeat through death on a cross is the doorway to an eternity of glory for millions. A rag-tag band of mostly uneducated misfits forms the nucleus of a movement that will turn the world upside down (see Acts 17:6) and is still doing so 2000 years later.

The kingdom of God is full of paradoxes, things that seem contradictory but are pregnant with truth and meaning. Failing to appreciate these paradoxes has led many Christians to fall into one ditch or another. How well are you embracing these 3 paradoxes in the kingdom of God?

Imago Dei and From the Dust

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). You and I are made in the image of God. No other entity in the universe other than humankind shares that honor, created with a derived glory and for the almost unfathomable purpose of ruling and reigning as vice-regents in the administration of God’s government on this earth and eventually in the universe. We are made with the capacity to create, not create from nothing but to truly create. We are made with the need, desire, and capacity for intimacy as God experiences within Himself.

And we are also made from dust. Only by the moment-to-moment sustaining power of God do we continue to exist. Separated from God we have no glory whatsoever. “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). We have physical, emotional, and spiritual limitations. And how we rage against those limitations!

These two threads about our human nature run throughout Scripture, culminating in the coming of Jesus as a human being for our salvation. How valuable is a human being? Look at what the God of the universe was willing to “pay” for your redemption!

And then consider how hopeless and helpless our plight must be for it to require the Son of God to empty Himself of His divinity, die on a cross, and carry the scars of that sacrifice forever. (See Philippians 2:6-11, Zechariah 13:6, John 20:20).

You carry the image of the God of the universe! And you also come from dust.

Less is More, Down is Up

Being made in the image of God, it’s natural for us to desire. God desires, and so do we. But sin and evil have hijacked our godly desires, so we now crave “up and to the right,” continually striving for more–more things, more experiences, more power. Pride, greed, lust. What a miserable way to live! (See James 4:1-3) I fear much of the Christian celebrity culture plays right into this.

But as Jesus said, “It shall not be so among you” (Matthew 20:26). Jesus demonstrated in Himself that in God’s economy the way up is down. The way He achieved glory was through the cross (Philippians 2:6-11). “Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

It’s the same for us who follow Jesus, and it’s a theme throughout Scripture. “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). The seemingly poor, weak, and forgettable are the very ones who achieve “greatness” in the kingdom of God.

Evil has twisted this truth as well. This is not suffering for suffering’s sake. Christ’s suffering and emptying of Himself was all pointing to something, to glory. And there is a point to our emptying ourselves and our suffering as well. We can’t orchestrate the outcome. We must let go of striving. But we can learn to trust that this is not as good as it gets. The “not yet” is up ahead.

Already and Not Yet

Jesus began His ministry proclaiming, ““The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The good news was not that you can go to heaven when you die, but that God had invaded the territory the enemy claimed as his own right now and was going about making everything right. When Jesus was here on earth humanity got a taste of what it’s like when things are as God wants them to be. Blind eyes see. Lame things begin to walk. Dead things come to life. Broken hearts are healed and transformed. Bondage is broken.

And Jesus also promised His followers trouble. “In this world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). Once more, this is not as good as it gets. As Paul said, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).

We rejoice. We live with irrepressible hope. And we also groan, eagerly looking forward, as did Abraham, to a future with God (see Hebrews 11:10). We are still living in enemy territory. So many Christians become disillusioned when they think saying Yes to Jesus means they will have the good life free of trouble now. That’s not what Jesus promised.

Who of us has fully grasped and experienced all we can have of the kingdom of God here and now? We settle for too little.

And who of us can be satisfied with even the best here and now? We were made for eternity, and our hearts will never be happy with anything less.

Living with Paradox

If you’re frustrated, stuck, or disillusioned in your Christian walk, consider whether you may be falling into the ditch on one side of one of these paradoxes. “Both-and” is hard for many of us to live with.

Be humble enough to seek God’s perspective. Bring your angst into God’s presence. Get quiet and let Him speak to you about what you may be missing. Some of this Christian life is mystery. And that’s OK.

Your Turn: Have you struggled with one of these paradoxes in the kingdom of God? What’s it like to consider living with a degree of mystery?  Leave a comment below.

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