The mysteries of the kingdom are hidden in layers of paradox. They are like a labyrinthine maze that cannot be compared with anything we humans can grasp. Perhaps the Universe itself provides the best analogy in nature, but the purpose of an analogy is to minimize big abstract mysteries into some small, tangible object we can comprehend. The Universe simply will not do!
The Kingdom’s Fruit of Paradox
Let's imagine instead a fruit that we'll call the "Fruit of Paradox" layered like an onion, but designed with each layer unique: each with a different taste, texture, and color. Some layers are delightful, others bitter. Some layers bring awe, others terror; some joy, others grief; some bring laughter, others tears; some bring dancing, others mourning. Only after eating from a layer of suffering may we later eat from one of rest. Having eaten a layer of poverty, we may later be surprised with a layer of abundance.
The sweet taste of wonder, awe, and rest reside in the very core of the Kingdom’s Fruit of Paradox. On occasion, the Lord may bless us with the gift of a glimpse, a quick little taste of the core to encourage us onward. Consider the mystery of “abundant life”: we may catch a glimpse of this mystery from the very first layer of the Kingdom’s Fruit of Paradox. That mystery draws us into deeper layers. These layers often call for sacrifice. Eventually, we will arrive at the Layer of Death. If we are willing eat and digest this most bitter layer, then we discover a deeper layer that returns to the mystery of abundant life.
Perhaps even more challenging than the Layer of Death is the Layer of the Sword (Gen 3:24). The Bible abounds with stories of those encountering the Layer of the Sword: Abraham tested with the sacrifice of Isaac; Jacob wrestling with God; the Israelites crossing into the Promised Land; David on the run from Saul; Daniel in the lion’s den; Paul receiving 39 lashes, and finally, the ultimate story of the Layer of the Sword: the Cross.
Differing Mysteries at each Level
Each layer of the Fruit of Paradox not only has its own taste, texture, color and feeling, but it also contains its own set of mysteries. Sometimes the mysteries in one layer appear to contradict the mysteries in another. But they all belong to the same Fruit of Paradox, maintaining itself as a harmonious whole.
Paradox abounds: God is full of love, but also judgment. We humans fall short of God’s glory, and yet, we are made in His image. Only God alone is good, yet we are commanded to be “perfect, even as our Heavenly Father is perfect.” We are given free-will, but we are also chosen before birth. Were we to attempt to compile a list, we would find an endless series of mind-boggling puzzles. The believer claims the scriptures can be comprehended if only one uses the right method of “hermeneutics.” The cynic throws in the towel, calls the scriptures “contradictory,” and walks away. But a genuine and deep-level kingdom seeker not only acknowledges the Lord’s multiplicity of paradox, but is also awed by it.
In its own way, each layer is called into the core. It is like the core sings to each layer, calling the seeker there to draw deeper, to come closer. Will we continue?
Tendencies toward certain Layers
Our unique personalities, temperaments, fortes, and hang-ups help determine not only how quickly we will move through the layers of the Fruit of Paradox, but also which layers we may choose as almost permanent stomping grounds. We humans tend to be of a stubborn stock, and few pilgrims move quickly through the layers. Some are content to stay put. They’ve found a layer that’s comfortable, that suits them just right – not too bitter, not too sweet, but just right – and, by gosh, they’re going to stay right there. Meanwhile, some of their friends are leaving! How dare they! “Wait a minute!” wail the layer-sitters, “God says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and you’re taking off, abandoning us!” “Well then, come along! Join us!” call the friends seeking deeper ground. But the layer-sitters tremble and remain.
Most like the sweet layers and do all they can to stay there. When their layer becomes dull of fresh sweetness, they seek further into the Fruit of Paradox, hoping the next layer will have a new delicious taste. But sometimes the next layer is bitter. Now the pilgrim is faced with a new dilemma: go back where it’s messy, go forward where it’s bitter, or stay stuck in the mud. The best path is the bitter one, though few take it. Many opt for the mud. Peddling hard on a stationary bicycle, they exert much energy, go nowhere, and react to everything around them. Stuck, they have no control over anything and are filled with frustration.
Others turn around, only to discover their previous layer – which had been sweet – has turned rotten. The sugar is no longer tasty, but gooey, sticky and messy. Still others return with a vow: to clean house back there. “I’ve gone a few paces forward,” they reason, “With my new insights, I can help clean up.” Little do these folks realize the “few extra paces” they have is like the teenager with a driver’s permit, insisting he can drive his friends on his own. Both he and his friends may be in for a dangerous ride. Likewise, the “few extra paces” pilgrim may be wise to first walk a few more paces.
Finally, some pilgrims – obscure in the minds of most of us – will accept the bitter layers and reject the sweet ones! Perhaps it is pride that prompts this odd rejection of joy. Perhaps it is skepticism. Perhaps it is fear: sweet layers can be spontaneous and require a loss of control. Whatever it is, these most miserable of all pilgrims endure suffering after suffering.
Conflicts between Those of Differing Layers
The contrasts of competing mysteries at differing layers often put us at odds with one another. A pilgrim eating a bitter layer may think the happy pilgrims aren’t genuine in their faith. A pilgrim who has spent much time in a layer of joy may think that the next layer of suffering is a sign that enemy is attacking him. As humans, we don’t like paradox. We like to be in control and to have a firm grasp on “truth.” Paradox ruffles our feathers, requires humility, and asks us to remain ever learning and growing. So rather than embrace paradox and accept the possibility that our neighbors could be discovering a different element of truth, we find it much easier to call them “heretics,” “infidels,” “deceived,” or “led astray.”
If we take any conflict too far, we may harm, injure, or even kill one another over what may in the end prove itself to be an inconsequential difference of opinion that stems from two different layers in the Fruit of Paradox. Ironically, when we do that, we violate the one everlasting truth that exists at every layer in the Kingdom: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
After one young man summarized the Law and the Prophets’ message of eternal life with these two commands, Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live” (Luke 10:25-28). All pilgrims at all layers of the Fruit of Paradox will agree with the centrality of our purpose to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. When we engage in bitter conflict over theological matters, we not only fail to “love our neighbor,” but we also fail to love God. If God truly is a God of Paradox, then do we not limit God Himself by claiming that we grasp His truth well enough to proclaim another a “heretic”?
Regarding those mysteries that we deem to be necessary for the soul, have we not ways to proclaim them lovingly? Can we live our understanding of truth, such that others will be willing to hear our understanding too? As we move into deeper layers of mystery, may we humbly call upon the Lord to help us love Him and our neighbor. The mysteries are great, but our purpose is simple. Achieving it is not. Let us submit ourselves to the Lord for assistance and, in doing so, soak in the awe of the mysteries.