The Gift of Wonder and God's Glorious "And"

The Gift of Wonder and God’s Glorious “And”

Wild extremes live on the bandwidth that comprises Christian faith. At one end of the scale are those who believe scarcely a thing at all, but even this is not as frightening to me as those on the end of the spectrum who have God all figured out. With algebraic precision, they are able to reduce God to his component parts. Their certainty factors out mystery and puts unyielding parentheses around an orthodoxy with no room for questions–and no surprises.

In Surprised by Paradox: The Promise of “And” in an Either-Or WorldJen Pollock Michel asserts that biblical faith “abides complexity rather than resists it.” (4) She wonders aloud about doubt and certainty, humility and hope, and then settles into the examination of four themes in Scripture in which paradox abounds:

1.  Incarnation:  God and Man

Nowhere is God’s delight in both/and over either/or more apparent than in the truth that the incarnate Christ was fully God AND fully man. This is a mystery that defies logic, and it invites believers to delight in our own duality. We are intensely physical beings with appetites and space/time limitations that anchor us in the quotidian and the earthy. And yet, our spirits commune with The Spirit, our souls will live forever, and we have been created in the image of an unseen God who is wholly spirit.

The incarnation brings unity to the spiritual and the material, the secular and the sacred, and we find, to our great surprise that “in Jesus Christ, we are more unimpressive than we ever dared admit, more glorious than we ever dared dream.” (57)

2.  Kingdom:  Plain Truth and Mystery

Jesus wasted no time in announcing that he represented another kingdom, far removed from the Roman Empire or the religious hierarchy of Judaism. Reading his story with the Kingdom of God in mind uncovers “the scope of God’s ambitions. He wills to reign. And he will reign over more than human hearts.” (71)

However, it is clear that the righting of our upside down world which began with Christ’s resurrection is not readily apparent and often seems completely missing in a world so larded through with suffering and injustice. In the meantime, those with little find their places alongside those blessed with much, and we all trust for grace to do life with those who don’t look like us, who vote in ways we find scandalous–and who are positively indispensable in our process of learning to set our hope fully in Jesus alone.

3.  Grace:  Rest and Response

If God had bones, grace would be in his deepest marrow. This is good news, for how else would any of us find our way into relationship with the Most Holy?

The paradox of grace lies in God’s requirement for obedience and his rejection of legalism; the gift of hard words delivered with love; and the invitation to rest while carrying his yoke. The reality of grace means  spiritual disciplines that look like work and feel like deprivation are the very thing that clear the channels for grace to flow freely into our lives.

4.  Lament:  Howling Prayer and Confessing Faith

North American Christians with our lives of relative ease rely heavily upon inspired words for our language of lament. There we find faithful Jeremiah pausing dead center in Lamentations to gulp air, declare God’s faithfulness, and then resume his tearful mourning over lost Jerusalem. Habakkuk and Job sing testy songs of impatience with God’s slow mercy, and psalms of lament read like “nasty letters to the editor.” (155)

Ironically, it is only those whom we trust and value who will receive the brunt of our anguish, disappointment, or rage. We affirm belief in a God who is there by railing at him when he feels absent. Our forays into lament keep sorrow from unraveling into despair.

God’s promise of And in this Either/Or World means that “just because it can’t be explained doesn’t make it false.” (24) The dissonance we feel when we bump into God’s inscrutable ways is an invitation to worship and to find, buried within the struggle to understand, the gift of wonder.

Many thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Always in awe of the paradoxical ways of God,

michele signature[1]

Keeping Place by Jen Pollock MichelI’ve been following Jen Pollock Michel’s work for quite some time, so I was thrilled to review her 2017 release:  Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home.  It was so insightful I devoted two posts to my review, the first dealing with thoughts around a “theology of home,” and the second focused more on the steady thrum of activity that holds a home together.


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45 thoughts on “The Gift of Wonder and God’s Glorious “And””

  1. Michele,
    It seems the older I get, the more I gravitate away from the either/or, black or white mentality and I am becoming more comfortable with the both/and way of thinking. There is so much mystery to God and to think I can have all the answers and nail it all down, is either pride or insanity… I’m learning lessons on how to enjoy the totally unexpected. Great post!
    Bev xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love your book reviews! And the concept of the Glorious AND is so amazing. I am slowly growing in understanding this, and will always be grateful for it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Here in North America, we have so little practice with true suffering that we need tutoring in the language of lament–which God so graciously has provided in the psalms and the minor prophets!


  3. We’ll never have everything figured out this side of heaven (and probably on the other side, too, since God will still be God and we will still not be. But at least we’ll know Him better then.) Yet I am alarmed by many these days who put question marks where God puts periods in the postmodern trend of preferring questions to certainty. I’m not familiar with Jen, but from this post it sounds like she has a great balance. There are so many mysteries to God and His ways, and they invite our wonder and worship despite our brain fatigue in pondering them.

    On another note, something I read last week set my thoughts on awe and wonder in a different vein that I hope will work themselves out into a blog post soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, all of Jen’s question marks are the ones God has put as punctuation to our thinking about Him and his ways. Wise balance doesn’t try to force closure on a matter God has left wide open.
      I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on awe and wonder. It’s always fun to have a concept on the back burner!


  4. That section on “Grace: Rest and Response” especially caught my attention. In SO many ways our God is a dichotomy of truths. But I love that he is beyond my understanding. The wondering prompts me to worship; He alone is worthy!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “We affirm belief in a God who is there by railing at him when he feels absent. Our forays into lament keep sorrow from unraveling into despair.” I love these words. We read in the Psalms that David made his complaints known to the Lord. We are often told that complaining is not good. But the main thing is who we complain to. Do we complain to each other? Others who usually cannot help one bit to alleviate our problems? Or do we, like David, tell our complaints to the Lord? If we hold these things in, our sorrow can turn into despair. We are so blessed to have a God who allows us to “rail at Him” while He understands and pours out His grace and mercy into our lives. Thanks for the book review. It’s another I had not heard of before. God b less you, Michele.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad that this part of the review spoke to you. And you are absolutely right about our need to take our complaints to God. After all, he’s the only one who can actually impact our circumstances.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Any book that states that faith “abides complexity rather than resists it.” and demands obedience while it rejects legalism sounds like a book I want to read. This just went to the top of my TBR list. Thank you, Michele. If we ever feel as though we have God figured out, it’s time to look at our faith. The mystery is part of Him.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. God’s Word certainly is full of paradoxes. I think it’s what keeps us dependent on Him and never quite able to fully understand Him. One of my favorites on which to meditate is the fact that we live between what Paul Tripp calls “the already and the not yet”!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I love that phrase, but was not aware that it originated with Paul Tripp. When we make peace with paradox, I think we are able to enjoy the areas of real clarity even more, because we are not being distracted by trying to clear up that which God has not revealed.


  8. “Ironically, it is only those whom we trust and value who will receive the brunt of our anguish, disappointment, or rage.” I am so very grateful for a wise woman whom years ago encouraged me to pour out my complaints to God. He has never broken my trust but kept every lament close to His heart. He is the safest place to leave it all. Wonderful review as always. I have not read any book by this author but lately have felt the pull to begin doing so, thanks to you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. […] Surprised by Paradox by Jen Pollock Michel–Jen Pollock Michel asserts that biblical faith “abides complexity rather than resists it.” (4) She wonders aloud about doubt and certainty, humility and hope, and then settles into the examination of four themes in Scripture in which paradox abounds: Incarnation, Kingdom, Grace, and Lament. […]

    Liked by 1 person

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