Jesus Said a Lot of Confusing Things. Like what does it mean to take up your cross and follow Him?
There are a lot of contradictions and paradoxes in the Bible. Jesus used them so often that His disciples were frequently confused. To save your life you must lose it. To lead you must be a servant. How can seeming opposites coexist? And how can they complete each other?
To those who read this and think: I think I’ve got this. I feel confident that I understand these spiritual truths.
To you: I would encourage you to sit with the contradictions a bit longer.
When faced with illogical Bible verses and relational tensions we often rush past them rather than struggling with the meaning. Some other examples of Biblical tensions include God becoming flesh in Jesus and the process of sanctification by the Holy Spirit. Do you rush past these ideas without grappling with the meaning? I encourage you to take a moment, even now, to consider how God brings together seeming opposites such as life and death, God and man, and sacred and sin. He brings these together in Biblical examples and if He is in your life, then He is likely bringing them together in you, in your relationships, and in your world. So, how can we know what is life and what is death, or what is of God and what is of men? Can you stay with the tensions and invite God to help you understand these things? Can you invite God to show you how these tensions are alive in your current life?
It is through these opposites that God can help us transcend our current reality—to transform our current understanding of God, ourselves, and His work in this world. This is may be one reason why he calls us to take up our cross. This is a provocative idea! And regularly taking a few minutes to try to hold onto the uncomfortable tension will bring us into greater contact with God. If you rush past or skip over these complex and challenging ideas, then you will miss out.
Some reading this might think: I feel so lost. I am struggling so much that I feel confused and disoriented.
To you: I offer encouragement.
In God’s narrative, suffering and death are never the end. Remember that one of God’s main themes is that of the cross and resurrection; the paradox that through death/desert/rejection comes new life/flourishing/union. Therefore, we can have courage to enter into struggle and confusion—not to stay there or because there is righteousness simply in the act of suffering—but because God seeks to bring new understanding, freedom, awareness, and transformation. Allow Him to lead you into the struggle; and as you stay there keep your eyes glued to Him and remember that He holds onto you during this time. He is a God of transformation. And he wants you to experience more freedom, which often means a painful process of letting go of what you think you know with certainty and letting Him show you a whole new world.
This life has seasons of death and new life. And within each season of life, there is some death. In seasons of death there is always some life present. We do not need to be afraid. We can stay present with both the life and the death, because we have a good God who shepherds us through every season and leads us in ways everlasting.
So, what does Jesus mean when he tells his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”? I’m sure that I don’t fully understand it, but I know that by staying close to these spiritual paradoxes, I stay close to God. And this is food for my soul.