Contradiction

There are plenty of lessons to be learned with age. I know this, as I’m sure you do, too. Perhaps like me, I’m guessing that if you sat and flipped through the pages of a photo album, one containing images chronicling the expanse of your life, you’d be able to reach into each grainy portrait to retrieve a lesson, perhaps something you know and understand now that you didn’t before that particular moment. Some of the lessons were hard-learned through trial, error, or struggle. Others were simple realizations born from the natural circumstances of an ever-unfolding life.

I have a picture on my shelf that includes me, Dinesh D’Souza, and Michael Shermer. Most folks know who Dinesh D’Souza is. Michael Shermer is the founding publisher of “Skeptic” magazine. I have to say, when it comes to critical analysis, he’s no slouch. Before the debate, I read his book “Giving the Devil His Due.” I figured I’d better have some sort of grasp on the fiber of his being before attempting to engage in conversation with him. I’m glad I did. Not only did it make our time together much more gratifying—and I think, in the end, helped forge a genuine friendship—but I discovered the book wasn’t completely unenjoyable. In fact, it tested the fences of my own understanding of God—who He is and how He operates. I wouldn’t recommend giving it to an unchurched (or de-churched) high school or college student. Although, having learned rather recently that many high school students are entering universities in need of serious remedial reading assistance, unless they can dig deeper than emojis and SMS language, they might not get past the first few pages before feeling the urge to give up and watch gamer videos on YouTube. The book doesn’t spoon-feed the reader. It requires some effort.

Anyway, the picture I mentioned before was taken in my office after the debate between D’Souza and Shermer we hosted here at Our Savior in 2020. In the photo, we’re raising whisky-filled glasses in a toast. I remember the moment very well. I remember the evening’s discussion. When I look at the photo, I remember a lesson learned. Actually, I should say I learned several lessons, but the one I remember when I look at the picture is this: Humans are definitely skilled at reconciling the most glaring of contradictions. In other words, we can find ourselves trapped by inconsistencies, whether that be our behavior, words, or whatever, and yet we always seem to find a way to legitimize them, to justify them, to make them fit seamlessly together.

I won’t go into the details of the conversation that nurtured this discovery. I’ll just say it was definitely demonstrated. It was subtle, but also very apparent. Having experienced this indirect instance against the backdrop of two men of incredible intellect, I’ve learned to be much more observant, to listen more closely, and to respond more cautiously in most situations—more so than ever before. Doing so, I’m better able to see when I (or anyone I’m conversing with) have left the land of objective truth and entered into the realm of subjectivity. To flesh this out a little, I’ll give you a less cryptic example from current events.

Kyle Rittenhouse—the teen acquitted in Kenosha, Wisconsin for killing two attackers, one of whom had a handgun—had the charge leveled against him by the prosecutors (and countless onlookers) that he shouldn’t even have been in the situation to begin with, let alone armed. With that, it’s been the crux of so many that he provoked the incident. For the sake of clarity, Rittenhouse’s father lives in Kenosha, which helps make sense of his involvement; and the judge dismissed the charge that he was carrying his weapon illegally. Still, even without these things being said, a glaring contradiction emerges from the prosecutors’ charge. While they ask what reasons Rittenhouse had for being where he was—which, objectively speaking, it appears there were a several—they appear completely disinterested in the reason for the attackers being there, all three of whom had serious criminal histories. I’ve seen little discussion on this issue. Perhaps worse, it was established early on that the man who aimed the pistol at Rittenhouse was a convicted felon, namely, a pedophile. What’s a convicted felon doing with a gun—and in a city being burned to the ground, no less?

It seems the concern for one but not the other uncovers a rather glaring contradiction.

Another example I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is the visceral anger being expressed by parents in relation to local school districts around the country. I read an article in “The Federalist” last week that sorted out what’s been troubling me. Yes, parents are mad that they’re being excluded from participating in their children’s education, and now they’re fighting back. Admittedly, they should be mad. Even better, I’m glad parents are finally leaning into these radical agendizing institutions. The ideologues at their helms need to be reminded that if anyone is to be considered sovereign in the parent/school relationship, it’s the parents. But what’s bothered me for so long is that these same parents have already been more than willing to relinquish so many of their parental responsibilities to the state. Long before feeding them into all-consuming sports, so many already served their kids up to “before care” and “after care” programs that pretty much handle all of the basic food, medical, and educational needs children require from the time they wake up to when they go to bed. Parents don’t need to feed them breakfast or dinner. They don’t have to help them with homework. They don’t have to help them navigate sexual or social concerns. The schools have programs for all of it.

Parents gave their kids to the state a long time ago, and now they’re mad when the state assumes the supreme role of parent? The contradiction here is piercing.

And lest we lose a molecule of honesty we have in this regard, this stuff isn’t just happening in the world around us. We see these contradictions in the Church, too. A person gossips, and when confronted, demands the benefit of the doubt. Another person complains after a long work week about Sunday morning worship being too early, only to be found standing in line at Walmart at 4:00am on Black Friday. Another person takes offense that his church didn’t reach out often enough over the years he was absent, saying he expected more from Christians. Another claims strict faithfulness to the Bible while heralding women’s ordination, the right to abortion, or defending his or her child’s homosexual disposition.

Before I go any further, I suppose I should at least give a nod to Aristotle’s Law of Contradiction (or Non-Contradiction, as it’s sometimes called). The Law of Contradiction is a relatively simple principle, but for as simple as it is, it’s necessary to logic and foundational to basic communication between individuals. In its most elementary sense, it establishes that two antithetical premises cannot both be true. In other words, red cannot be blue—or to use the philosopher’s language, “red” cannot simultaneously be “not red.” Perhaps more interestingly, no small number of philosophers in history worried that a society found abandoning this very simple law would have poisoned itself in a way leading to certain death. I wonder what that means for America, a country where science is no longer science, where a man can menstruate and an unborn human child is not, in fact, a human life.

As you can see, glaring contradictions abound in every aspect of our lives, and the fact that human beings have the uncanny ability to reconcile them in their favor proves something innately dark to humanity. The Bible knows what it is. For starters, take a trip through texts like Ephesians 2:3, 1 Corinthians 2:14, Psalm 51:5, Genesis 8:21, Romans 5:19, Romans 8:7 and you’ll likely figure out what it is. It’s Sin. Even further, God’s Word establishes the necessary boundaries for identifying Sin, not only by revealing and then measuring the specifics of God’s holy law (the Ten Commandments) against our lives, but also by confirming the Law of Contradiction as a very real thing at work in Natural Law. The Scriptures do this when the Apostle John announces so succinctly, “No lie is of the truth” (1 John 2:21); or when Saint Paul describes God by declaring, “He cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). Of course, there are countless others, and by all of them, the Bible is not only affirming the existence of truth, but also reminding us that when we make excuses that justify our contradictions, it’s likely we’re on a dangerous trajectory aimed away from truth.

The fact that humans are so easily inclined to do this once again proves that the Sin-nature goes much deeper than we could have ever expected. We learn that Sin has burrowed comfortably into our souls and does not want to let go.

So what do we do?

Once I finish typing this note, I’m going to finish the sermon for this morning, which in its current course, spends a lot of time in the epistle appointed for today from 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. It’s there that Saint Paul says pretty straightforwardly, “For you yourselves are fully aware…”

Indeed, God has not left us ignorant of the predicament. His holy Word answers the question. To deliver us from the darkness, He has given His Son, Jesus Christ (John 3:16-17). Trusting in Him and the Gospel Word of His wonderful work, we are different. We are attuned. We are aware. It’s from this that Saint Paul can assume there remains very little left in this world to surprise us like a thief (v. 4). We are no longer children of the darkness, but rather “children of light, children of the day” (v. 5). We can see what’s going on and not be duped. We can watch what’s happening and not be startled. In this particular text, Paul makes the case that not even the sudden return of Christ in glory at the Last Day will catch us unaware. We cling to truth. Truth keeps us prepared.

The text ends with Paul urging the reader to “encourage one another and build one another up” (v. 11). Consider this morning’s eNews message an encouragement to you to continue holding fast to the Word of God for discerning the world around you. Let it teach the lessons you’ll learn along the timeline of your life, many of which will be camera-captured and preserved as memories to be revisited. Let it be the ultimate source of revealed truth to you. Let it bring you to the knowledge of your sinfulness—to the seriousness of your devout commitment to “self” and the sinful contradictions we so often try to justify. From there, follow its lead as it tells you of the One who took your place in Sin on the cross, giving to you a new heart and a willing spirit that has more than enough muscle for arising from contradiction’s trap and aligning with faithfulness (Psalm 51:10-12).

It’s Good to Be Home

It’s good to be home. Still, vacations certainly are great. They’re the allotment of time and distance you set aside for setting things aside.

But let me just shoot straight with you. I get more than a little anxious before coming home. We haven’t been taking vacations as a family for that many years, so I can look back at each of them and say with conviction that I’ve never once thought while thrashing around in the pool with Jen and the kids, “You know, I’ve had enough of vacation. Let’s get back to reality.” For me, Voltaire’s comment amount rest being a brother to boredom falls flat on its face when I’m enjoying my early morning vacation ritual of sitting at my computer drinking coffee, unrestricted, free to type whatever I feel like, and as I do, every now and then, catching a glimpse of a favorite palm tree covered in scurrying anoles just outside the window.

For me, vacationing does not share the same parentage as boredom.

You may have a different locale with different rituals, but I’m sure it’s the same for you. Still, let me dig a little deeper into the anxiousness, because I’m guessing this might be familiar to you, too.

While on vacation, we usually drive cars that are better than our own. Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not like we troop through the rental lot in search of the Porsche section—although, I’ve pestered Jen about it once or twice. We usually get a minivan. And if we’ve paid more than $250 to borrow it for the whole trip, we consider ourselves as having been ripped off. I’m not kidding. Jen is the one who plans all this stuff, and she is magnificent this way. This year she managed to get us situated for the whole two weeks in a really nice Dodge Caravan for only $238. But more to my point, it had 115,000 miles less than the car I drive now, and as far as I could tell, not one of its dashboard warning lights was beaming steadily.

While on vacation, even though we only go out to eat about four or five times over the course of the entire two weeks, that’s still far more than we do as a family in an entire year—maybe even two years. And rest assured, our time in the various restaurants while vacationing is never wearisome. The staff is kind and equipped to serve, smiling and ready to bring us whatever we ask. We are kings and queens for the moment.

While on vacation, we do whatever we feel like doing. Of course, with the fear of COVID-19 looming everywhere this year, it was more of a challenge when it came to getting out and finding things to do. And yet, we never grew tired of the swimming pool. We were never met with exhaustion playing board games. We were never fatigued by huddling together on the couch, a bowl of popcorn in hand and watching “Shark Week” episodes featuring our favorite underwater cameraman personality, Andy Casagrande.

My point here is that while vacations are a temporary respite from reality, we can become anxious when we find ourselves actually heading back into reality. We want the vacation to be our permanent reality. We don’t want to come back to the car that has trouble starting. We don’t want to come back to the places where we are rarely, if ever, the one being served. We don’t want to come back to the relationships peppered with conflict. We don’t want to resubmit ourselves to stress-filled schedules filled with ungrateful patrons eager to tell you how undelighted they are with you. We don’t want the seemingly impossible workloads or the pressurized deadlines.

In the final analysis, across the expanse of a year’s fifty-two weeks, we want a reversal. We want fifty weeks of ease, and only two weeks of trouble.

But consider that word “reversal” for a moment.

I did a little bit of devotional reading each day while I was away. Every now and then, Luther spoke of God as staging a great reversal in Christ. We most often hear it referred to as “the great exchange.” If you ever get a chance to read from some of Luther’s writing on this subject, do so. His excitement is palpable. In fact, I sometimes think his words are at their poetic best whenever he’s dealing with this topic in particular. And why would they be this way? Because of all people who needed a reversal, it was Martin Luther, a man who monopolized the time of his father confessor because he couldn’t find the end to his own faults in a single day. He was a man terrified that he could never do enough to find God’s favor and win eternal life. But here in the great reversal, terrified sinners discover a God who, even in our ghastliness, loves us beyond measure. We discover a God who has no desire whatsoever to give sinners what they truly deserve. Instead, we behold Jesus on the cross and we see God working hard to lose so that we might win. We see Him taking the lowliest position of a foot-washing servant, laboring to make sinful peasants into righteous princes. We behold Him striving to endow the simplest of human words and means with an extraordinary power for delivering immeasurable forgiveness from the storehouses of heaven itself. For a guy like Luther—and for all of us for that matter—the Gospel turns what was once an awful truth of our inescapability from God’s divine reach into the most comforting of truths.

There’s an interesting aspect to all of this that relates to the anxiety of wishing a two-week vacation and the fifty weeks of reality that follow could switch places. By the Gospel, in a sense, God helps us to see that in Christ, this has actually happened. He gives us the eyes of faith for seeing that in the scheme of things, life in this world is really more like the “two weeks” of trouble in comparison to the inevitable “fifty weeks” of eternal rest we’ll experience with Christ.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m in the midst of a stressful situation while at the same time knowing that very soon I’ll be leaving it all behind, the worry I experience in those harder moments feels a little more like borrowed trouble. With that, I can endure it because I don’t really own it. It’s the same with life in this world. I don’t own it. Christ does. He took all its troubles into Himself on the cross. He carried them with Him into the grave. He rose again to justify my freedom from their permanence, which means I can make my way through all of this world’s nonsense knowing it’s already passing away, and in less than a blink in eternity’s eye, I’ll soon be resting with Him.

I want to add one last thing.

When I returned home and found myself among so many of you, I again experienced the joy of one of God’s most generous provisions to humans for enduring the relative “two weeks” we spend on this earth. I came home to friends.

Cicero referred to a friend as a “second self.” Aristotle referred to friendship itself as “a single soul dwelling in two bodies.” For as insightful as these two philosophers were, they certainly spoke most handily in this regard. Coming home to friends, dwelling with you in the midst of this world’s struggles as a community of people immersed in the mercies of God and prepared to labor together, well, that helps to steer the anxiety away, too.

For that I am grateful to our gracious God who put you into my life, and I can repeat what I said at the beginning of this note: It’s good to be home.

By the way, I also began yesterday’s sermon with that sentence, and then doing something that probably seemed a little out of character to all of you, I asked Alexis Shirk (who was sitting in the first row near her parents) to snap a quick picture of the congregation for me. I had her do this because only moments before I stepped into the pulpit to preach, having just surveyed a Godly sea of 240 familiar faces, I remembered once again what a privilege it is to be the one preaching God’s Law and Gospel to people I love. It was an instance confirming for me the Christian proverb that “a faithful friend is the medicine of life; and those who fear the Lord shall find him.”