Preaching Paradox and the Paradox of Preaching


Dangling questions can be more powerful than trite answers.

I have always struggled to understand God and faith and how they relate to everyday life. As a child, I remember sitting confused on a shrunken brown wooden chair, staring intently at the polished parquet floor my feet couldn’t quite reach. My young, smiling Sunday school teacher never let on that she was fed up with my regular interruptions to her well-intentioned storytelling. “Who made God, miss? Is God bigger than the universe, miss? Why did God tell Abraham to kill his son? Will he tell me to hit my sister? If I do hit my sister, then isn’t God responsible, because he is in charge of the universe? Why?”

My Sunday school teacher always had an answer that, I see in hindsight, wasn’t really an answer. “If we could understand God, then we would be God.” Or, “God works in mysterious ways.” Or, as a last resort, “Don’t be awkward—get on with your coloring.”

Years later, as a pastor, I sat in a hospital ward and once again stared at the floor, this time sanitised and off-white. I could not bring myself to look directly at the mother kneeling by the bedside, thick black lines of makeup smearing down her face. The one-year-old beside her had been babbling and bubbly just a few days earlier—gorgeously boyish. Now he was blind, crying incessantly, his body rigid. It was supposed to be a routine operation; now his screams expressed how we were all feeling. His piercing cries made audible the pain of the tragedy, the panic for the future, and the ever-present question, “Why?”

My Sunday school teacher’s advice wasn’t going to cut it here. One of my well-prepared sermons on trusting God in difficult situations would have made the situation worse. A glib answer, a slick one-liner, or a handy proof-text would have been next to useless. I sat in silent prayer, asking God for answers that were more than just words. In that moment I began a journey that would lead me to discover it is often in the mysteries of life that we learn most about the mysteries of God. The problem of suffering in the Bible is as messy as the problem of suffering in real life. But discovering the paradoxes of Scripture can be the most effective help when life itself is a paradox.

Up until that point in my ministry, I had thought I was helping my congregation grow by simplifying the Christian faith into neat principles and touching or amusing illustrations. I made the gospel digestible to an increasingly biblically illiterate church. I tried to hold the attention of an audience used to being on multiple screens at the same time. I wanted to give people something they could take home and immediately put into practice. Making Christianity simple, clear, accessible, and engaging was my aim.

But although my motivations were good, I was not, as I thought, building the necessary strong foundations to help them weather the storms in their lives. My best intentions were breeding the worst outcomes. My preaching was winning a hearing in the short-term, but it was actually damaging in the long-term. Sometimes in our desire to communicate, we alienate. Sometimes in our passion to simplify the gospel, we nullify its power. Sometimes in our dedication to give answers, we fail to understand the questions.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Krish Kandiah