Last week I mentioned that Jake and I will be going to the upcoming Justice Conference in June, and one of the organizers of this great conference is Ken Wytsma, Wytsma recently published a book called The Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God, and the Necessity of Faith and in it, he aims to help readers understand that while life is messy and God often works in ways we don’t understand, He is not absent. He is real, He is close, and He cares about our lives.
More than that, Wytsma encourages and exhorts us to live faithfully while yet recognizing that “faith is often characterized less by clarity than by confusion” (p xx). He says in his introduction:
This book is an exploration of the art of living by faith. It is a book for all those wrestling with the paradoxes that confront those who seek to walk with Christ. It is a look at how faith works, here and now, in our culture, our time– and how to put down real roots and flourish in the midst of our messy lives.” (p. xxi)
Here’s the reality of faith. It’s a constant tension. And one of the essential parts of life, according to Henri Nouwen, is to “‘live the questions’ faith engenders” (p. 13). Wytsma walks us through some of those questions that faith engenders, not giving us answers, but leaving the tension right where it is. Instead of reliving the tension, he encourages a faithful, clear-headed living response to the questions that exist.
- How do I pray? And how do I hear from God?
- What is God up to?
- How do I pursue God in the midst of doubt?
- What IS faith?
- Life is messy and hard. How do I live faithfully in the midst of all of that?
- What is God’s calling on my life?
One chapter of the book in particular, A World Made Right, resonated with me. In it, Wytsma is discussing the elusive “God’s Will” questions. What is God up to? What is my role in it? He addresses the individualism of that question (spot on) and then he discusses God’s general will that is outlined in Scripture in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus: to make the world right, restoring creation to be in a right relationship with God–Righteousness, if you will, which is synonymous with justice (actually, it’s the same word in the Greek, just translated differently in our English Bibles). So, while all of that was not new to me, what he said about living a life of justice really shook me awake:
There’s some bad news involved in discovering what God is up to. Engaging in justice- and especially, seeking to redress injustice- is not the shortest route to fulfilling the American Dream.
While I definitely don’t verbally aspire to the American Dream (in fact, I am sometimes adamant that I don’t), I certainly slip into living like I do without even realizing it. My mind and heart sometimes gets too focused on my bucket lists, the dreams and goals of how I want God to work in me and through me (mostly in ways that are comfortable), but I was reminded that sometimes it’s those very goals and dreams that can keep me (us) from fully realizing my (our) participation in God’s setting right of brokenness in this world.
Sometimes dreams or overly defined life goals can get in the way of God’s plans. Certainly, God can use goals, and often does, but we always have to hold them in loose hands, recognizing that God could want us to head a different direction, or stop short of reaching a goal, or do something that would make all our dreams and goals unattainable because of how God chooses to use us.
I think why I really like this book is because Wytsma addresses these messy paradoxes of faith through the lens of justice, which just makes the most sense to me. He takes the focus off of the individual’s importance and their “key role” in all of it and brings a sense of humility to the conversation. I think this book is written out of an incredibly healthy place and would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking to readdress some of the key questions of faith through a less “me” centered perspective (while also honoring the beauty of the individual reading it).
Thanks to Booklook Bloggers for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
I’m linking up to Modern Mrs. Darcy’s “What I’ve Been Readlng Lately”