Life is an oxymoron. Or, to be precise, ‘Christian life’ is an oxymoron. This is something that I have had to learn, sometimes the hard way. And, I can’t say that I get it right each time. But definitely this is something that strikes me when I look back on the road I have travelled.
What am I getting at? Good question. As a Christian, I learned many things by rote (Sunday School, Sword drill, Vacation Bible School (VBS), etc., were good at filling my head with a lot of Biblical knowledge and jargon). Yet I never really thought through a lot of what I knew. If I had, I would have probably realised much sooner that living the Christian life was no walk in the park. Let me explain. One of the most familiar verses I learned as a child was Romans 5:3: “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance.”
If I had only taken the time to think about that, I would have realised how ridiculous that statement was. I sang all the right songs, quoted all the right verses, and read all the right books. But when you are smack face-to-face with pain and torment and heartbreak, you honestly do not feel like “glorying”! I didn’t. I felt betrayed and angry and disappointed. Not very “Christian” at all!
Yet it was in the valleys of life; during days and months of loneliness and despair, when life didn’t make sense that I truly began to hear God’s voice. Those were the times when He was most real to me, when He guided me every day, when He stuck closer than a brother.
And that was when I realised that the Christian life was an oxymoron. Google defines an oxymoron as “a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction.” Essentially, everything the Bible says, all that Jesus spoke and lived and taught, points to this fact—that what may seem contradictory at first can actually exist in perfect conjunction.
The Bible is filled with such examples. Take “love your enemies” for instance—imagine actually living that out! How would I deal with those who attacked my family just because we did not belong to their religion? Could I love them? And “love” in this context would be the whole shebang—turning the other cheek, praying for those who persecuted me, and doing good to (i.e. proactively seeking the benefit of) those who spitefully used me and reviled me. Honestly, I’m still struggling to answer that one truthfully. I know what my gut reaction would be, and it would not be how Jesus responded to His accusers, how He bore the shame of my sin uncomplainingly, how He forgave freely. Yet, that is the bottom line—the ultimate oxymoron—love my enemies.
When I look back at the last decade, it is crystal clear to me. I’ve learned that there is joy in the midst of pain; I can love the unlovable because Jesus did that for me, that with God the impossible is possible—the dead can live again, the blind can see, the crooked paths can be made straight, and there can be streams in the desert. I’ve learned that when I am weak, then, in Christ, I am truly strong. When my eyes deceive me with “facts”, the hope of the cross gives my faith wings. And that only when I die to myself, can I truly live!
So, it is possible and doable when Jesus says:
“… Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful”(Luke 6: 27–36).Ultimately, the Christian life is all about Jesus. It’s all about Him. Not me. But we can exist in perfect conjunction when we live in submission to His Lordship.