In my June 11 blog entry, I wrote about “questions”. Some people apparently appreciated that; more than one wondered about my answer to that particular question. “Why are you a Lutheran?” the young waiter had asked me. What I remember telling him is this.
I’m a Lutheran because I believe our understanding of the Gospel is the most biblical, and for that reason it is the most radical and the most freeing of all theologies. “You did not choose me but I chose you” Jesus tells his disciples the night before he died. And that word about our relationship with God is consistent throughout the Scripture, from Adam and Eve to Abraham and Sarah and the children of Israel, Moses, David, through the prophets and John the Baptist–and since the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Our relationship with God is unconditional, like a parent’s with a child is intended to be. It is because God is fully committed to us that forgiveness is at the heart of our relationship, and is intended to be received and given. Other branches of the Christian family think the so-called believers’ choices or actions are more central. We rest assured that our Lord is (like) the Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, or the Good Shepherd gone in search of one lost lamb because 99 out of 100 is not enough.
I also told the young man I appreciated Luther’s understanding of the importance of paradox in our thinking. Paradox involves the assertion of two statements that are true, and yet they contradict each other. For example, we believe that we are “simultaneously saints and sinners.” We are not one or the other some of the time. We are both–always. Sinners by our words and deed prove to be self-centered–“curved in upon ourselves” according to Luther and the Apostle Paul. And we are also saints; that is we are forgiven–always. That paradoxical teaching helps me understand myself and other human beings and our very human nature, as well as what it means to belong to Jesus Christ.
Another paradox Luther asserted is that “the finite (something with limits) is capable of the infinite (something with no limits).” The incarnation–that is that Jesus Christ is “true God, Son of the Father from eternity, and true man, born of the virgin Mary” is a paradox. God is eternal (infinite) and he became human (see Philippians 2:5-11) in the person of Jesus, and Jesus died (finitude).
So is our understanding of the Lord’s Supper paradoxical, because we believe that “in, with, and under bread and wine (finite)” we receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ (infinite). Other churches teach one or the other, seeming to prefer some sort of explanation to unexplainable mystery.
Paradox allows for mystery in our relationship with God and so our faith, rather than our thinking we can understand all things fully, including God; or that we finally can’t think about God and ask questions because we’re not supposed to think too much–just believe.
Next time I blog I’ll share the rest of my answer and what I wish I’d also told the waiter.