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  • Sonya Leigh Anderson


Updated: May 24, 2022

I looked up from my plate of fish tacos, partial smile, aware of tears. “I guess it’s possible to hold two competing emotions at once.” My first response to news I wasn’t expecting.

Later, I’d read about “paradox” in Brené Brown’s book, her textbook of emotions purchased and sent by my daughter-in-law living in New York City:

Paradox is not an emotion…it starts with thinking but brings in emotion as we start to feel the tension and pull of different ideas. (Atlas of the Heart, page 84)

“California?” It was the middle of March Madness, and we were still waiting out the worst of our midwest transition from the grip of winter to reluctant spring. “It sounds like a dream.” Which is part of the reason they’re pursuing it, I suppose. Not seeing themselves in Iowa forever. Young and free, and it’s now or never. I glance at my son, and Nils looks toward Brina. I say it again. “It’s just that I’m really excited. And I’m really sad.”

I was in the final weeks of grading papers for my college course. The gospel is a paradoxical story. One of my students used this phrase, and I wrote in my comments, “So true.”

And isn’t this the crux of our Christian faith?

The paradox is one of our most valuable spiritual possessions…only the paradox comes anywhere near to comprehending the fullness of life. (Brown quoting Carl Jung)

Because sometimes paradox is a good way to understand our competing emotions, and sometimes it’s the genius of our spiritual lives.

The past semester my students and I studied “threads” woven through the pages of scripture. Many texts. Many authors. One continuous story. And the story leads to Jesus.

Isn’t it true that Jesus radically changed the story?

This is a paradox, too.

We follow Jesus in an unseen kingdom, in the now and not yet. As Augustine described it—we live in two cities. The Earthly City and the City of God. My son, Grant, illustrated this with his youth group recently.* Two ropes representing “two ages.” One is finite, and one has no beginning or end. Grant has a hand on each rope, and he tells his students, “We’re living in both.” In the words of the apostle Paul: We live in the flesh, while we live in the Spirit (Romans 8).

Or—in the words of my own soon-to-be-released book, The Covenant Story:

It is no longer I who live. It is Christ who lives in me. This is the new-covenant life. It is Jesus living his life in me. It is his Spirit doing for me what I cannot do for myself. It is being in a perfect covenant relationship with God forever.

It is nothing short of a miracle.

We are human, which has always been our limitation. From the Garden of Eden, we fleshly people have struggled with sin. We’re unfaithful. We make a mess of our loves.

But when Jesus came, he changed the story. He changed our story. The story changed.

We are not as we were. Because Jesus makes us new humans.

In less than a month our newly-est weds will load two cars and a trailer, California bound. Our son, ironically, has taken a job with his Dad’s company, but on the west coast. Which is to say—Nils' parents had a hand in his paradoxical move.

Brown quoting Jim Collins:

Builders of greatness are comfortable with paradox. They don’t oppress themselves with what we call the “Tyranny of the OR,” which pushes people to believe that things must be either A OR B, but not both. Instead, they liberate themselves with the “Genius of the AND.” (page 84)

The genius of the AND…

Paradoxical stories. Indeed.

*Grant's illustration was inspired by the BibleProject video: Eternal Life.

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