Tension is Required

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald.

When I was young I saw life in black and white. Right and wrong. Good and bad. But the older I get, the more I realise life isn’t that simple. It seems the answers to some of the toughest questions are not always “either/or”, but rather “both/and”… As Carolyn Arends articulates so well,

Is it faith or works? I demand of the scriptures, and the answer seems to be: “Yes.” Is God a God of revelation or of mystery? Is he as close as a whisper or beyond all things? Yes. Yes. Is the kingdom of heaven now or not yet? Should I be wise as a serpent or innocent as a dove? Should I fall headlong into grace or work out my salvation with fear and trembling? Yes. Yes. Yes.

A lifetime of evangelical thinking has primed me for either/or questions,breeding a deep distrust of both/and propositions. After all, one of the distinguishing features of Christianity is its insistence that there is one way to God. A wariness of pluralistic worldviews is completely warranted. But if I’m not careful, that insistence can mutate into creating artificial schisms that fly in the face of a God who desires to make us whole in radical ways.

When we fall for false dualities, we end up arguing over whether the gospel is concerned with ministering to the poor or proclaiming the Word. We believe our theology must emphasize either a free gift of grace or a call to holy living. In a myriad of areas, we polarize, dichotomize, and greatly minimize the life God has for us.”

Unfortunately this truth is easier to write about than to live.

It takes less effort to settle for black and white. And so we congratulate ourselves for taking a stand, but lose half of what God has for us in the process.

I think most of us would like our faith to reduce tension, but according to the scriptures, it seems tension is required.

6 Replies to “Tension is Required”

  1. I did an exercise once that as I read my way through Psalms I noted in the margin all the characteristics/qualities that each Psalm revealed to me about God. By the end I realised that God is so much bigger than what we are able to understand, incredibly complex and multi-faceted, and yet knowable. It challenged me to think of Him as more than just the characteristics that are nice for me – like grace and unfailing kindness! Carolyn is so right – when we only focus on one side of the coin so to speak, we miss the richness and depth that God has for us. Thanks for another great post!


  2. Tension is most certainly difficult but required. It’s too easy to just take a black and white approach, or run away from the question altogether. These things are on my mind a lot.


  3. I have been following your blog for some time and was very disappointed with the image you chose to accompany this blog. Surely, with the thousands of images available, a better, more tasteful image could have been chosen. This was not exactly the full-screen image that I wanted to open first thing in the morning with my 14 year old son at my shoulder. Please be more careful to represent yourself well as a person who touches a huge audience on the internet.


  4. Yes it is so true about the tension… it is a catalyst for growth if we take the tension and don’t back out! You touched on the faith vs works scenario and its funny how attitude plays such a role in how we view our works. Some count works as a basis for ëarning the right”to…. be a good person”” – this is the kind of mindset that can develop pride and harbour offense. It seems to be quite a destructive yet subtle form of self-salvation where works are done out of a motivation for mainataining a “good”religious reputation. Works are there for us to action with gratitude being the motivation to carry out God’s purposes in our lives using our unique skill-sets and personalities. Having said that, the tension still exists – to do or not to do/ to stumble and get up again… I’m glad we can keep our eyes on the one who is perfect and stand in Him!


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