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Transformation: Living in Both-Ands

Transformation Blog: Readings from Learning to Live and Love Like Jesus



Transformation: Living in Both-Ands

Brandon Cook

Think of all the tensions followers of Jesus are asked to hold.  The scripture asks us to believe that:

·      God is three and One
·      Jesus is completely human and completely divine
·     God is sovereign and we have free will
·     There is great suffering in the world and God is good

The list goes on and on, but already you get the inevitability of living in tension and paradox from the moment we accept and follow Jesus.  Apparently, we are meant to embrace tension sooner rather than later! 

Reading each proposition above is like looking at an Escher figure-ground drawing.  Perspective jumps and leaps.  Which perspective is true?  Both are true.  Both are contained in the reality of the statement, and in reality itself, even if our merely human minds struggle to keep up.  And this is the point: we aren’t meant to perfectly resolve all the contradictions of life.  Otherwise we would not need faith.  It’s only in a posture of trust in the face of contradictions that we can become truly open to God.  (We finally discover, in this posture, that God is not only the All-Powerful but also the All-Vulnerable, but that’s a topic for another post.)

The problem is, we live in an either-or world, which is all about taking sides to relieve tension through being right.  The more certain or dogmatic people are, the louder they we yell and perhaps the more “faith” they are said to have.  Followers of Jesus are called to be radically counter-cultural: we are asked to thoughtfully hold tension and more, to be in tension without freaking out.  This posture lives in the heart of faith and is the only posture in which we can see, hear, and know God.  Yet most people, because we live in an either-or world, struggle to live into the Both-Ands that God calls us to inhabit, and thus experience their mind being at war.

This either-or thinking usually dominates our thinking about ourselves, too.  Indeed, this is where the war really wages, and a battle is how Paul describes the mind untouched by the Spirit, unable to grasp God’s love and mercy.[1]  How can we be accepted by God when we are still so  unsorted?  This is exactly how we think if can’t think in Both-Ands!  We live in the Either-Or of “I’ve got to be good enough, smart enough, or competent enough, or God can’t choose me/love me/bless me.”

I remember years ago writing down my faults (all the ones I was aware of, anyway) on a yellow legal pad.  I wanted to get down everything about myself that needed to change.

Stop wanting so many material things
Start reading my Bible more
Stop watching porn

I filled the whole page up, because I believed the only way God could love me was by fixing all these faults.  It was a losing game from the get-go, not because I was wrong in my assessment—indeed, all of the things I listed were good things to start or stop--but rather because the only way into real transformation is not by will power alone but by understanding the heart of God that claims us before all these things are sorted out.  This is the starting point for lasting character change and transformation.  It is, in fact, the only way to actually get ourselves sorted out, and it only comes in a confession of complete need and dependence, which of course is the only place we can finally, fully receive the love that transforms.  Once again, we don’t come to God by our strength but by our weakness.

Only if your mind has learned to hold tension can you also hold the great reality of your adoption in God, even while you were (and are) unsorted.  A mind that can’t hold paradox can’t hold this ultimate paradox.  They’ll be too busy trying to figure out how they can be worthy enough, which is always a losing proposition.  Ultimately, Jesus is training us to live in Both-Ands so that we can live into the great Both-And of our adoption in God.  We are completely unworthy, and we are completely beloved and absolutely accepted.  When you can say “yes” to this, you begin to transcend the limitations of a world stuck in Either-Or.  You can live in the awe and wonder necessary to abide in the grace of God.  We have to learn to hold all the Both-Ands of scripture until we can hold a Both-And about who we are.  God’s training ground through scripture proves to be the perfect primer for receiving the good news of new life in God! 


[1] See Romans 7.