Can opposites be alike?

(Tim Ramey) #1

A question that I’ve always had was, in Scripture can opposites be alike? What do I mean by that? Let me try to explain.

We know that, to understand God totally, we’d have to be god ourselves. We also are certain that God is capable of doing anything - that nothing is impossible for Him. My question is NOT ones such as, “Can God make a rock so big that He cannot lift it?” But because our “brilliant” minds are nothing compared to the Lord in His vastness, can there be things in the Bible that seem to us, to oppose each other but in God’s agenda can work either way? I’m not asking this to circumvent some of my posts that have implied this but to ask it outright for better understanding my Lord Jesus.

An example, which could bring a flurry of activity because I believe that most in this group would be Calvinistic in thinking. However, I feel that various verses support predestination but other places seem to support free will. Take the example as just that - as an example and not to get us into the discussion of Calvinism versus Arminianism. Say I am correct in saying that Scripture supports both positions, it is shocking for an apologist to ask this, but can both positions be correct though they seem to come from opposing positions because God isn’t relegated to our terms? As a thousand years is like a day and a day is like a thousand years, in our agenda it is what is it - 1,000 years or a day? But in God’s endless framework, both work.

I’ve never discussed that position with a non-believer because it would appear to be a cop-out. But do you feel that it is a possibility and if so, how do you convey two opposites that agree in God’s endless framework?

(SeanO) #2

@Tim_Ramey That is a good question. In the case of a 1000 years is a day I do not think those are opposites or a contradiction - it is just a way of saying that God will accomplish His will even if it takes much longer than we would like. But regarding issues such as free will and sovereignty, I have found J. I. Packer’s explanation of antimony and paradox to be helpful, though I may personally lean towards free will or molinism.

Everything below is a direct quote from J. I. Packer’s article. How do these categories of antimony and paradox help you make sense of these apparent opposites? Do they? I think Packer does a good job of giving examples of paradox in Scripture - which is just word play in a sense.


What is an “antinomy”? The Shorter Oxford Dictionary defines it as “a contradiction between conclusions which seem equally logical, reasonable, or necessary.”

For our purposes, however, this definition is not quite accurate; the opening words should read “an appearance of contradiction.” For the whole point of an antinomy — in theology, at any rate — is that it is not a real contradiction, though it looks like one. It is an apparent incompatibility between two apparent truths. An antinomy exists when a pair of principles stand side by side, seemingly irreconcilable, yet both undeniable. There are cogent reasons for believing each of them; each rests on clear and solid evidence; but it is a mystery to you how they can be squared with each other. You see that each must be true on its own, but you do not see how they can both be true together.

Let me give an example. Modern physics faces an antinomy, in this sense, in its study of light. There is cogent evidence to show that light consists of waves, and equally cogent evidence to show that it consists of particles. It is not apparent how light can be both waves and particles; but the evidence is there, and so neither view can be ruled out in favor of the other. Neither, however, can be reduced to the other or explained in terms of the other; the two seemingly incompatible positions must be held together, and both must be treated as true. Such a necessity scandalizes our tidy minds, no doubt, but there is no help for it if we are to be loyal to the facts.


It appears, therefore, that an antinomy is not the same thing as a paradox. A paradox is a figure of speech, a play on words. It is a form of statement that seems to unite two opposite ideas, or to deny something by the very terms in which it is asserted. Many truths about the Christian life can be expressed as paradoxes. A Prayer Book collect, for instance, declares that God’s “service is perfect freedom” — man goes free through becoming a slave. Paul states various paradoxes of his own Christian experience: “sorrowful — yet always rejoicing… having nothing — and yet possessing all things” 2 Corinthians 6:10. “When I am weak — then am I strong” 2 Corinthians 12:10.

The point of a paradox, however, is that what creates the appearance of contradiction is not the facts, but the words. The contradiction is verbal , but not real . A little thought shows how it can be eliminated and the same idea expressed in non-paradoxical form. In other words a paradox is always dispensable. Look at the examples quoted. The Prayer Book might have said that those who serve God are free from sin’s dominion. In 2 Corinthians 6:10, Paul might have said that sorrow at circumstances, and joy in God, are constantly combined in his experience; and that, though he owns no property and has no bank balance, there is a sense in which everything belongs to him, because he is Christ’s, and Christ is Lord of all. Again, in 2 Corinthians 12:10, he might have said that the Lord strengthens him most when he is most conscious of his natural infirmity.

Such non-paradoxical forms of speech are clumsy and dull, beside the paradoxes which they would replace, but they express precisely the same meaning. For a paradox is merely a matter of how you use words; the employment of paradox is an arresting trick of speech, but it does not imply even an appearance of contradiction in the facts that you are describing.

Also it should be noted that a paradox is always comprehensible . A speaker or writer casts his ideas into paradoxes in order to make them memorable and provoke thought about them. But the person at the receiving end must be able, on reflection, to see how to unravel the paradox — otherwise it will seem to him to be really self-contradictory, and therefore really meaningless. An incomprehensible paradox could not be distinguished from a mere contradiction in terms. The paradox would thus have to be written off as sheer nonsense.

By contrast, however , an antinomy is neither dispensable nor comprehensible . It is not a figure of speech, but an observed relation between two statements of fact. It is not deliberately manufactured; it is forced upon us by the facts themselves. It is unavoidable , and it is insoluble . We do not invent it, and we cannot explain it. Nor is there any way to get rid of it — save by falsifying the very facts that led us to it.

(Kathleen) #3

This is such a good question, @Tim_Ramey! It’s definitely one that I wrestle with myself and esp. find difficult to explain when I’m speaking with people who would not share my worldview. And @SeanO thank you so much for your clarifying thoughts! It was super helpful to see the difference between the concepts of antinomy and paradox so spelled out. (And thank you for the Packer excerpt!)

I always find it fascinating how our human lives are not meant to be lived at either extreme, but in the middle…walking in the tension of the two apparent contradictions…or opposites. :slight_smile:


I hear you there! I’m always afraid of looking intellectually sloppy. However, do be encouraged that to claim ‘mystery’ is not always a cop-out. All worldviews have mysteries. In speaking with people who would not share a Christian worldview, I often find it helpful to start with what we do know and work from there.

(Joshua Spare) #4

I love your questions, @Tim_Ramey, for a number of reasons - thank you so much for asking them! I think @SeanO provided some excellent ideas to begin unpacking these thoughts, and I hope you found them as illuminating as I did.

As I read through Packer’s explication, the question that came to mind, and I think it is a rephrasing of part of Tim’s original question, is can an antimony, specifically an antimony seemingly found between two Biblically-based concepts, be resolved? It would seem as though, in my limited exposure to the cited wave-particle antimony, that physicists hope to eventually resolve the antimony by gaining more information and developing a framework in which the concomitance of wave-behavior and particle-behavior is no longer antimonious. Assuming that is correct (and please do correct me if I am wrong), is there an analogous “information collection” towards the resolution of Biblical antimonies?

On a separate train of thought, do you guys think these considerations can spur us toward worship of our Great God? How might considerations of seemingly irreconcilable truths point us to the majesty and holiness of God?

And finally, do you think there is a possibility that these antimonies can be used as an apologetic in and of themselves?

(SeanO) #5

@jspare Those are astute observations. Regarding resolving the antimony between free will and sovereignty, I wonder if it is God’s intention to reveal ‘how’ He works to us? If God is ultimately relational and eternal life is to ‘know Him’, then perhaps even though it is a struggle for us to accept in an age obsessed with science, His purpose is not for us to understand these things and perhaps there would be no benefit even if we did.

I do not say this to discourage inquiry - I enjoy more than anything worshiping God and pondering His mysteries. But I think in the modern world we sometimes demand explanation for the sake of control - and God is ‘not a tame God’. Lewis made a comparison between magic and science, not to disparage science but to point out how the modern scientific mindset can lead us in the wrong direction.

“There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the wisdom of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique; and both, in the practice of this technique, are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious—such as digging up and mutilating the dead.” C. S. Lewis

And I think this idea leads into your second question - ‘yes!’, I do believe that the mysteries of God can lead us to humility and true worship. For who has known the mind of God or who has been His counselor? (Isaiah 40:13, Romans 11:33)

Romans 11:33-36
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Regarding your final question, I am uncertain. The only apologetic approach I can think of is one I have heard Tim Keller and a few others use - “If God is really God, then you should expect that He is beyond your understanding. A god that you could fully comprehend would be a god of your own making and no real God at all.”

What are your guys’ thoughts on Lewis description of science and magic? Do you think God’s main desire is to reveal Himself relationally and that rational understanding is only a means to that relationship?

(Kathleen) #6

I love this question, @SeanO. I’ve heard it said that the greatest distance that can ever be traversed is the distance between the head and the heart. (Or something like that!) Having lived so much of my Christian life relying on intellectual ‘head knowledge’, the real life has come for me as my relational ‘heart knowledge’ of God has grown. Head knowledge is good, but without heart knowledge, it can leave the bearer rather lifeless. I mean, Jesus is concerned with teaching truth, but he’s always more preoccupied with the hearts of those present, is he not. So, yes, I believe that God’s main desire is to have us reconciled to Him…bring us back into that relationship!

(Tim Ramey) #7

@jspare @KMac @SeanO
With each posts, it gives me so much to consider. On this note, I wanted to respond particularly to you, Joshua. I really appreciated your Packer explanation.

My mind can’t take it all in at once, so I’d like to respond just to this:

Simply put, I feel that the irreconcilable truths cause us to realize how high and big our God is. Not only are we not able to grasp Him in His entirety, but that He would love us also unconditionally is beyond comprehension, especially realizing how we have fallen short. It evokes a sense of praise and worship. So, Joshua, in answer to your question, which I think you were implying an opinion, was one that I totally agree with. That’s why I don’t have a problem if I cannot explain how these seemingly opposing concept fit together in the Lord’s agenda. As is written: “Psa_139:6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it.”

(Lakshmi Mehta) #8

That’s such a great question. I wanted to share a few thoughts of my grad school adviser that may fit here. He was not a Christian but a seeker of God. He would say, “True love cannot be explained but is to be experienced. Trust is sacred in true love. Some of us develop intellect faster than faith and some of us develop faith faster than intellect. When faith develops faster, the mistakes we make are because of our trust in others. When intellect develops faster, the mistakes we make are due to lack of humility. Faith gives courage, strength and power but intellect gives direction, discrimination and power to judge. Faith without intellect may lead to fanaticism but intellect without faith makes one obnoxious, arrogant and miserable and their only solution is to develop faith”.

I agree with his observations and remarks and faith seems more important. In my own experience I got introduced to Christianity at age 12 and became a Christian around age 15. I may have asked a few questions but the journey with Lord Jesus started mostly with trust. God didn’t take my trust in Him lightly though I didn’t understand all the facts. He showed Himself to be real through answered prayers and miracles. Though I am not always able to give good answers to questions about God, He has revealed Himself enough for me to have a relationship with Him. When I joined this Connect community, I felt humbled by the knowledge and skills of many in this community. My comfort was when I remembered that eternal life is about knowing Jesus than knowing all the answers. When faith is the basis, everyone has an opportunity to know God even if they fall short intellectually. That’s why the gospel message may be so simple, it’s to believe in Jesus, making God accessible to all.

So @SeanO, to answer your question, I do think God’s main desire is for us to have a relational understanding of Him. He reveals Himself to different people in different ways and sometimes through rational understanding. Though relational understanding is rational, we may not personally need rational explanations for our trust once we have tasted how good our God is.

(SeanO) #9

@Lakshmismehta That is a helpful quote from your advisor about the role of faith and intellect. Their definition of intellect sounds similar in some ways to the Biblical concept of wisdom, which must be sought and learned. Praise God that He, being spirit, can make Himself known to both the simple and the learned, the weak and the strong, the wise and the simple!

(Patrick Teo) #10

i used to live in a house where every morning there would be an army of ants gethered in my kitchen sink. i could not ask them to leave because they would not here me. i do not want to disturb them too much for they would give me hell by scattering all over the place.
i need to use the sink, in order not rock the boat, i boiled a judge of water, and demolished them all. i felt a little bad but that did not stop me for doing so. Your comment would be gladly taken in relating to my emotional state! :))
i am only a human, those ants means nothing to me. i wiped them out without even having a second thought! How much more would the gap between God & us! It is beyond comprehension! The only different is, God loves us so much!
Our God is omnipresent, omniscence and omnipotent. Although the word omnipotent means all powerful, God can not be mutually exclusive simply because He is God. God is TRUTH, LOVE, GOOD, ABSOLUTE MORAL, RIGHTEOUS, MERCY and there is no evil in Him. The moment a supreme being does an evil deed, he would not be a god but a devil! That is the different between the Good & the Bad!!! Isaiah 55 : 8-9 says it all. i could never fully understand God, but God has revealed His attributes through the Bible!
The word predestined is not an absolute! There is a big different between ‘predestined’ & ‘predetermined’! God only predestine all of us to be in His salvation scheme, there is nowhere in the Bible saying that we can not refuse it through our freewill given to us! Jesus said can snatch my lambs my Father has given me, but that is not to say the lamb can not disqualify itself by rebelling against the master through disobedient. Thus bring back Philippians 2 : 12.
Another food for thought :slight_smile: