My best friend recently lent me a book called “Freedom of Simplicity” by Richard J. Foster. In the few pages, Foster talks about the central paradox of living in simplicity and calls it the “paradox of simplicity,”
The fact that a paradox lies at the heart of the Christian teaching on simplicity
Should not surprise us. The life and teachings of Christ were often couched in
paradox: the way to find our life is to lose it (Matt. 10:39); in giving we receive
(Luke 6:38); he who is the Prince of Peace brings the sword of division (Matt.
10:34). Those with simplicity of heart understand the Lord, because much of their
experience resonates with paradox. It is the arrogant and obscurant who stumble
over such realities. Paradoxes, of course, are only apparent contradictions, not
real ones. Their truth is often discovered by maintaining a tension between two
opposite lines of teaching. Although both teachings may contain elements of truth,
the instant we emphasize one to the exclusion of the other the truth becomes distorted
and disfigured…A pivotal paradox for us to understand is that simplicity is both a grace
and a discipline…Simplicity is a grace because it is given to us by God. There is no way
that we can build up our willower, put ourselves into this contortion or that, and attain it.
It is a gift to be graciously received…Of course, we must not forget the other pole of our
tension, for simplicity is also a discipline. It is a discipline because we are called to do
something. Simplicity involves a consciously chosen course of action involving both group
and individual life. What we do does not give us simplicity, but it does put is in the place where
we can receive it. It sets our lives before God in such a way that he can work into us the grace of
simplicity. It is a vital preparation, a cultivating of the soil, a “sowing to the Spirit,” as
Paul put it…Simplicity is an inward reality that can be seen in an outward lifestyle.
Matthew Chapters 17-20 are rife with paradox and cultural illogic. We begin with Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain witnessed by Peter, James, and John – a glimpse of the glory and divinity of Jesus. The glory of God, fully transcendent and imminent, in the garments and form of a human man, needing to eat, drink, and sleep. Paradox. As adults we mature and grow with wisdom yet Jesus commands that adults need to become like little children, humble and wondrous to receive the Kingdom of Heaven. Paradox. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. Paradox. There was a tension within which Jesus lived and taught that was ungraspable to the Pharisees and many that came to seek Jesus but turned away discouraged. They wanted Jesus to tell them which pole of the tension to side on; which end of the spectrum to live by; which interpretation of the law to follow. But Jesus did not point to laws or arguments or philosophies. He pointed to the Father. A new covenant redeeming us to communion, fellowship, and worship with and of God by the blood of the Lamb. Love, obedience, faith, forgiveness, and service are the seeds we are to plant and the fruit that we should bear for the benefit and nourishment of one another. We aren’t to follow Jesus so we can secure VIP seats or lay claim to the best treasure in the kingdom (Matthew 20:20). We are meant to embrace the paradox of simplicity of a Christian life to show our love to the Lord. To find rest in the Lord. To live as we were meant to live when we were first created. In a harmony of simple truth, untiring service, compassion, grace, holy reverence, and Godly love. I pray that rather than run from the paradoxes in our lives, we can embrace the inherent contradictions in this world and of our faith to discover more of God’s truth.
(And yes, that was an Alanis Morisette reference in the title ;)