CP Opinion

Saturday, Nov 29, 2014

The Christmas Paradox: Wholly Natural and Supernatural

December 25, 2012|7:55 am

Other than through the original Christmas event, no religious teaching crosses this seemingly definitive division – the marked chasm between the natural and the supernatural. The Hindu "avatars" are claimed as brief appearances of the divine, but all the avatars insist that they are not in real human flesh. Islam directly denies that anyone can be both God and human. In Quran 5:17, the very belief that Mary's first son is also divine is definitive of infidelity against Allah, a capital offense! Taoism focuses on nature, and denies the supernatural altogether. Buddhism, Confucianism and secular humanism generally seek to avoid any serious consideration of our Creator anyway – since God does not play a significant role in their beliefs – so they ignore this marked chasm between the supernatural and natural, too.

Only through the Bible do we learn of the One who is all human and all divine – fully natural and fully supernatural – all at the same time, all the time, by God's awesome, amazing grace, poured into the Christmas event. To us finite and flawed humans, for anyone to claim to be fully human and fully divine may seem blatantly contradictory. Still, from the Biblical record this momentous, paradoxical Christmas episode of the divine-human Savior is truly prophesied and fully produced. Consequently, it is in this awesome event, at the first Christmas, that we see revealed the core truths of all of life. For starters, the Holy Spirit created a new human life in the virgin womb of Mary – the same Spirit whom our Creator chose to breathe into his shaped hunk of dirt-clay to create his first human being many, many years ago.

In fact the divine paradox of Christmas is partly represented in the paradox of our humanity. All we humans are remarkably similar to the animals while being profoundly spiritual at the same time. We humans are solidly earthly in body chemistry, while we are simultaneously personally conscious and also eternally spiritual – able to reflect on both body and soul. We all are so much more than our body chemistry. And all is good: Each human body is originally good, personally crafted by God, and each human spirit is originally good, personally breathed into us by God, too. Put these two wholes together, and each of us is a walking wonder, a marvelous miracle, and a profound paradox. Let us consider the two whole aspects that make this wonderful, whole, walking paradox of all of our human lives possible – and even delightfully potent.

For the one "whole," physical nature it is not a denial of the supernatural, because physical nature thoroughly and continually depends on our Creator. Even dirt and clay are full of God's power and presence. Some world religions ignorantly demean the body and the physical world. However, Jesus taught that all of nature matters to God, so that even a small sparrow does not die without his notice. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also said that we should not worry about food, clothing and shelter – not because these many things are not important, but because they are so very important that God thoroughly cares about them for us. There is grace and goodness in all that he has made, even if we humans have perverted or polluted much of nature.

For the other "whole," the supernatural does not deny the natural, because our Creator designs, creates, uses and indwells all of nature for his grace-filled purposes. Because our Creator continues to sustain and personally rule his physical world, there is nothing more truly "natural" than the supernatural. Now while some physicists look for a unified field theory – where one complex field formula explains all events – the Bible reveals to us the "unified Person perspective." Within the Person of the Christ of Christmas in charge, "all things hold together" (Colossians 1). The eternal Word who calls creation into being is also the very precious human baby, who became flesh and "moved into the neighborhood" that first Christmas morning – a little more than two millennia ago. The awesome "infinite" has chosen to become for us also the most precious "infant," and everything is now transformed through him. This greatest of all paradoxes – along with all the Creator's other paradoxes – help rivet our hearts and minds onto what matters the most for both time and eternity.

What other paradoxes has Creator put in our lives? Every major academic discipline has one or more paradoxes central to its core concepts. For example, for centuries mathematicians have searched long for, and often claimed to find an internally consistent and finite set of principles from which we can generate arithmetic – even the simple natural-number arithmetic of 1, 2, 3, 4… However, every effort failed because additional paradoxes were found even in the very methods by which great mathematicians attempted to generate their proofs. While they were advancing mathematical knowledge, their own goal was fundamentally frustrated. Mathematical geniuses like Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead hated the idea of accepting the natural numbers and their properties as God reveals them in his world. Nevertheless, in 1931 Kurt Gödel proved that no consistent set of axioms can generate all the truths of natural numbers. That is, for any rational theory of arithmetic there are truths of numbers that cannot be contained in that system. Gödel's proofs are upsetting to many, but they are widely accepted as definitive.

Finding such paradoxical incompleteness in even natural-number arithmetic – even without fractions or imaginary numbers – is especially humbling. However, every field of study has an elemental paradoxical "problem." In physics, light is fully both particles and waves – two mutually incompatible objective understandings. In sociology, free and responsible human behavior is determined by many environmental and hereditary factors. In economics, self-serving individual behaviors can produce de facto benevolence. The radical paradox of the simple Christmas story is in good company! You will see much more about two dozen intriguing paradoxes all around us, and in every field of study, at my www.xparadox.com.

Why are paradoxes important? Two reasons. First, they are true and objective. Second, they are splendid reminders of how utterly incomplete is our finite, rational knowledge. So, let us be humble before our Creator while we keep studying and researching to expand the knowledge we have, incomplete as it always will be. God's ways will always remain above our ways.

When we again consider our own complex selves and the special self of the Savior, both "wholes" are good – the natural and the supernatural. In the Creator's design, these "opposites" are alloyed, both within ourselves as humans, Creator's images, and also in the whole Creation at large, and especially in our Savior. Nature depends completely on the supernatural, and the ultimate Supernatural expresses his grace fully within nature, within his creation – especially in that prophetic baby, born in Bethlehem about 2012 years ago. Because God is so very great, he fully engages each of us humans – in our past, present and future – in ways no one else could even consider. Thank you, Jesus!  

Have a joyous Christmas – beyond comprehension! A very joyous Christmas, indeed!

Dr. Paul de Vries is the president of New York Divinity School, and a pastor, itinerant speaker and author. Dr. de Vries is Senior Pastor of Immanuel Community Church in lower Manhattan, and since 2004, he has served on the Board of the National Association of Evangelicals, representing 40 million evangelical Americans.
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