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Life Has Contradictions. Here’s How to Deal with Them.

How to Deal with Life's Contradictions

There is an ancient Jewish joke that two people came to a rabbi to settle a dispute. One person gave his perspective. The rabbi immediately said, “You are right.” 

The other gave his perspective and the rabbi immediately said, “You are right.”

The rabbi’s students watched how their rabbi handled this and were perplexed. They asked their rabbi, “How could they both be right? They are saying two contradictory things.”

The rabbi looked at them and said, “You are right!”

I tell you this joke because I think it’s so strange that in the ancient world, everyone thought that they were right and that others were wrong. I mean, we’ve progressed so much in the last few thousand years…

The Ultimate Truth

Religion in particular has a reputation of being dogmatic, of claiming ultimate truths about the world. And if we have the Ultimate Truth, that means they don’t have the Ultimate Truth. And so we have to convince them that our Ultimate Truth is the Truth and if they don’t submit then they are either sinful or stupid and they are going to hell.

There are religious people who do that. There are some who look through the Bible and try to find what they think are concrete truths to claim that they are right and other people are wrong.

This “right and wrong” business misses the whole point of Judaism and Christianity. 

In the Beginning

Let me start with Judaism and then we will get to Jesus. All you have to do is read the first two chapters of Genesis and you find contradictions. In the first chapter, God creates plants, animals, and then humans. The second chapter of Genesis describes a second and different story about creation. In this story, humans are created first and then plants and animals. The order of creation in these two stories contradict.

We moderns react to these contradictions in numerous ways. For example, one group sees them and says, “But there can’t be any contradictions in the Bible. The Bible has to be right and without any contradictions, so we’re going to find all kinds of ways to try to iron them out.” 

Another popular alternative is to just throw the Bible out. We notice the contradictions, that means it’s wrong, and so we’re just going to throw it out.

But there is another option that comes from our joke. That option is to look at the contradictions and say, “Yes” and “Yes.” There is something truthful in both of those contradictory accounts. And so, in some sense, those contradictions belong.

And I need to tell you that the contradictions in the Bible are one of the things that I love about that book. I mean, contradictions and paradoxes are true to life, so of course they are in the Bible.

The Bible was written by humans and part of the truth the Bible reveals is that life is full of contradictions. I’m 45 years old and when I look back on my life I see contradictions. I look back at some decisions and they make sense. I look back at other decisions and I think, “Man, that was really stupid.”

The ancient Jewish people were able to reconcile the contradictions in the Bible – not in a way that coherently merged them together, but in a way that said “yes and yes.” That those contradictions belong.

The Contradictions of Life

And I’m in the process of trying to reconcile my life. Good and bad things have happened to me. And I have done good and bad things to others. There have been times when I beat myself up over some things. But I’m getting to the point where I can claim that in some way all of those contradictions belong. In some way they are part of the story of who I am and who I am becoming.

But it takes a lot of work because we live in a culture that is very uncomfortable with contradictions, despite the fact that our culture is full of contradictions. We suppress these contradictions, in part because we feel we have to be right, which means that others are wrong.

The problem with our joke is that it can lead us to be wishy-washy. But to tell you the truth, there are times when I think that others are wrong and I am right. For example, I’m right that our LGBTQ siblings are loved and accepted just as they are. I’m right that we need to work hard so that women’s rights aren’t taken away from them. I’m right that we need better gun legislation. I’m right that no human being deserves to be houseless. Frankly, I’m pretty sure I’m right about a lot of things.

But here’s the contradiction that I need to reconcile: God loves all people, including those who I think are wrong.

Which is good, because there are times when I’ve discovered that I wasn’t as right as I thought I was. There are times that we’ve all been wrong. And yet, we’re all still loved.

And sometimes even when I’m right, I can divide the world into good guys to work with and bad guys to defeat. Pretty soon I get to the point where even if I’m right, I end up acting very wrong.

God Loves All People

And for me, this may be the biggest contradiction of all. God loves all people, even those that I think are totally wrong. Even those who I think are standing in the way of a more just and loving world. Yes, God loves them too. And there are times that this fact just annoys me to no end.

Because it means I have to look at them and say, “Yes” to their belovedness. Maybe this is where we find the glory of God.

On one level I hate that kind of love. But on another level, I think it’s the most beautiful thing in the world. The world is yearning for a group of people to band together and struggle for justice while trying their best to remain loyal to following Jesus in loving one another and even our enemies as Jesus loves us.

I have contradictions inside of me. And I am called to love myself. You have contradictions inside of you. And we are all called to love you. And you are called to love yourself. And I know sometimes that’s hard. It’s hard because we are usually told to fight the contradictions. But maybe we are called to forgive the contradictions. Maybe even to love the contradictions. 

Because the more I can embrace the contradictions inside of me, the more I can embrace the contradictions inside of you. 

And the more I can embrace the contradictions inside of you, the more I can embrace the contradictions inside of me.

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Adam Ericksen

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