The difference between a paradox and a contradiction

I’m a geek, and I’m proud of it. I’m not really smart enough to be a nerd, though, but I’m satisfied with my geek status. I love science fiction. Don’t ask me why; I’m just wired that way. I grew up with Star Trek. I adore Stargate (in spite of the fact that I have been openly mocked for enjoying the movie by those less geeky than myself), and I’ve spent far too much time staying up watching both SG-1 and Atlantis. I love the concepts and the scenarios science fiction allows a writer to explore without offending people.

I love paradoxes. I love being able to examine concepts or ideas or situations that don’t exist but do. Probably the most famous science fiction concept is the grandfather paradox, which pretty much confuses everyone. But it’s a concept that can’t exist even though it could exist. Each possible conclusion seems to negate itself while at the same time making it possible for it to occur in the first place. A paradox. Something that is but isn’t. A statement that seems self-contradictory but actually expresses truth.

Moth on the gravel road - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Moth on the gravel road - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Matthew 5:4.

God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Does that make sense to you? At first glance, it doesn’t make sense to me. This verse is pretty much saying that people who are sad should be happy because they’ll be comforted. Well, to me, needing comfort because I’m sad means I’m sad. Needing comfort because I’ve lost someone or some thing indicates that I’m exactly opposite of happy.

This statement is a contradiction.

Or is it?

Many people believe that the Bible is full of contradictions, possibly because of verses like this, verses that state the impossible as though it is something that is possible. This verse is an example.

To me, I see this verse as a paradox, not a contradiction. Stating that people who are mourning should be happy seems contradictory, but this verse isn’t about being contradictory. It’s talking about how we should handle loss.

If the world were perfect, this verse would be contradictory. If we were perfect, this verse would be contradictory. But the world is broken, and so are we. So what does that mean for this verse and for the countless others like it that speak contradictory truth?

Contradiction is about opposition. If you’re being contradictory, your own goal is to argue. Contradictions state the opposite, whether it is true or not.

Paradox is about truth. And we can’t full wrap our minds around it because we can’t fully understand truth. People are limited. Truth isn’t.

And when something seems contradictory, the first aspect you need to examine is whether or not it’s grounded in truth. I can tell you the sky is green and the grass is blue all day long, but all the evidence says I’m lying (although some folks I know will insist that the sky has no color). I can tell you that you don’t need a degree to get a good job even if all the experts say that’s false. I can tell you any number of statistics or data sets that contradict anything you can think of, but if it’s something I just made up, it has no basis or foundation in truth.

That is a contradiction.

But a paradox?

God blesses people who are sad because they will be comforted.

What truth is that based in? Well, the rest of Scripture to start with. The Bible is full of other promises that God has made to bless and protect people who are experiencing a time of grief. But if you aren’t one who trusts the Bible, look at the experiences of people who follow Christ. While they may not want to relive their time of grief and mourning, they wouldn’t trade it for the world because in those times God became more real to them than ever before.

I guess my point this morning is that when we run into verses in scripture or when we encounter moments in our lives that don’t make sense, we shouldn’t just check out. When bad things happen, we shouldn’t give up on God, and we shouldn’t give up on following the path He’s laid out in front of us. Because He’s doing something. We may not be able to see it, and I know we can’t understand it, but He never stops moving. And all His plans are good.

Maybe that doesn’t make sense, but just because you don’t understand it doesn’t make it untrue.

 

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