Christianity -- perhaps more than any other religion with which I'm familiar -- is characterized by paradox.
And in his compelling new book, Night of the Confessor: Christian Faith in an Age of Uncertainty, Tomáš Halík, describes the central paradox of the faith, Easter, this way: ". . .the paradox of victory through an absurd defeat."
In fact, the Christian faith is riddled with paradox, and people who want things in black and white, yes and no, good and evil, either abandon the faith or, misunderstanding it, become fundamentalist literalists.
Halík insists that there is a different path -- the humble path of acknowledging what we cannot know for sure, the path of placing our trust in a God we cannot see, the path of following the incarnate God-man who spoke in parables, who taught not vengeance but love, who understood that all language is metaphor.
Halík was active in the underground church when Czechoslovakia -- now the Czech Republic -- was dominated by the Communists under the thumb of the Soviet Union. Eventually he was ordained as a Catholic priest and served as general secretary to Czech President Vaclav Havel, the wonderful writer who opposed Communism and eventually became his people's leader.
Halík, as a priest, heard many, many confessions, and began to draw conclusions about humanity and religion from that experience. Those conclusions make up the core of this book -- not lists of specific sins he heard from people confessing to him.
As I say, Halík will not let us walk away from paradox. He writes:
"God, who is preached and represented in this world by the One who was crucified and rose from the dead, is the God of pradox: what people consider wise He considers fooly, what people regard as madness and a stumbling block is wisdom in His eyes, what people see as weakness He considers strength, what people consider great He sees as small, and what they find small He regards as great."
With this attitude ingrained in us, we can understand Halik's reluctance to declare with precision that he knows just what happens to us when we die:
"The fact is that we do not know. And the only thing I can add to that state of unknowing is my hope: I trust that even beyond that final frontier of my faculties, God will not let me fall into nothingness."
It is hard to live with such uncertainty, such contingency. But it is precisely what the Christian faith calls for because we are finite creatures and God is not.
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BLEST BE THE TITHE THAT BINDS
Mitt Romney tithes to the Mormon church. Do you tithe to your faith community? Although there's debate about whether it's a biblically mandated practice to give 10 percent of one's income, it's an excellent spiritual discipline. What's more, if tithing were more common, imagine the good that churches and other congregations could do that they can't afford to do now.