Embracing Tension

theological tension

Most people I know are trying to eliminate tension in their lives.

Commercials offer products to reduce it. People go on vacations to escape it. Medications are designed to help people forget it.

Tension carries a negative connotation for many. Certain types of tension can be hazardous to your health.

Not everyone avoids tension. Some types of tension are sought on purpose. Bodybuilders actively seek muscular tension. To gain strength and muscle mass they intentionally put their muscles under as much tension as possible for as long as they can. Tension is positive in this case.

I believe Christians should actively seek theological tension. I believe this is healthy.

Theological tension does not mean theological arguments. It doesn’t mean looking for people you disagree with. Those types of tension are mostly external. Those types of tension Scripture tells us to avoid. The Bible calls this quarreling.

But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. (2 Timothy 2:23, NASB)

The theological tension that I am suggesting is internal. It can help us to:

  • remain humble and patient with others
  • maintain unity with Christians who hold different opinions on disputable matters
  • reduce laziness and apathy toward holiness and obedience
  • rest more in the Lord

Theological tension arises when we encounter what some call “mystery” or “paradox.” For example, when we think about the sovereignty of God and human moral responsibility.

The strategy of many Christians and denominations is to avoid tension and flop to one side or the other.

I’m a Calvinist! I maintain the sovereignty of God!

I’m an Arminian! I maintain human responsibility and freedom of the will!

When we flop to one side or the other we are running from tension. Can we just be honest? The Bible affirms both. When we pick one or the other we are doing violence to the Scriptures. Usually, people tend to emphasize whichever aspect makes them more comfortable.

Tension has huge implications on our theology of prayer, evangelism, service, and even who we vote for. Whichever side we flop to will have influence on how we pray (or don’t), evangelize (or don’t), serve (or don’t), and vote (or don’t).

Perhaps you’ve wondered why these theological issues are so difficult. It seems possible that if the Scriptures were a little clearer on some issues perhaps Christians wouldn’t be so divided.

Our present state of division and denominational-ism isn’t God’s fault. It’s not because the Scriptures can be hard to understand in some places.

It is because we have resisted the tension. We have chosen a side. Then we fight with others who picked a different side than us. We try to make ourselves feel better by telling everyone that they are wrong.

Usually, they have just chosen to emphasize different Scriptures than we have.

We need to recognize that the Scriptures they quote are not contradictory to our pet passages. They are meant to be held in tension with our favorite verses.

I believe God gave us this tension for a reason. It wasn’t so we would fight with each other. It is because human beings are fickle creatures.

When I get worried about the direction of our world and country I read a passage like this and it gives me peace:

“Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10, NASB)

When I start to think God has got this world under control so I can focus on some “me” time, I read a passage like this:

Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel. (Philippians 1:27, NASB)

One tells me to cease striving. The other tells me to strive.

Should I pick one and put it on a refrigerator magnet and tear the other out of my Bible? Should I fight with other Christians who have the other verse on their refrigerator?

Nope.

I should learn to embrace the tension. The tension keeps me (and you) from flopping to one extreme and ignoring the other. It keeps me from failing to understand that God is sovereign AND my actions matter in this life. Embracing tension keeps me balanced knowing that often the truth is BOTH/AND. It is not EITHER/OR.

It is not service OR evangelism. It’s both.

It is not God is sovereign OR humanity is responsible for our actions. It’s both.

It is not God is my provider OR I have to work sensibly and responsibly to earn a living for my family. It’s both.

Learn to embrace theological tension. It will keep you walking in the will of God. It will correct you when you stray to one extreme or the other. It will help you to understand your responsibility and rest in God’s sovereignty.

It will make you a stronger follower of Christ.

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