The tagline for this website uses the phrase ‘in the world but not of the world’, a tension that many Christians are familiar with. There are also paradoxes and enigmas that exist within God and are captured in the oxymorons that describe Him. My hope is that by understanding more about God we can find encouragement for our double lives and the tensions we experience.
If it has been a while since you were at school you may have forgotten what an oxymoron is, but I promise you, it is worth revisiting them. The official definition of an oxymoron is a
“a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction”
That’s a rather dry description, so if it hasn’t helped to prompt your memory, then perhaps some examples will assist. Here are a few:
Open secret. Old news. Only choice. Almost Exactly. Deafening Silence. Virtual Reality. Civil war.
The beauty of oxymora
As an English as a foreign language teacher, one of my favourite lessons is teaching oxymorons (sorry, oxymora just doesn’t sound right) because they can be seriously funny and my students love to guess their obviously hidden meanings. Every language has its own oxymorons and my learners are also keen to share the ones they know from their mother tongues.
Most oxymorons consist of two words that mean the opposite of each other, together they offer a new way of looking at something familiar. In combination they push aside established definitions so that there is space for curiosity and questions. Just like opposing forces or energies, they combine to create something new.
Using Oxymorons to Describe God
Defining God using oxymorons is nothing new. He is the ‘Servant King’ and the ‘Crucified Saviour’; both of which have been used to describe Jesus since the first century. When we examine these names closely, I picture each word as a flint. The words strike against each other and create sparks of light that, for an instant, allow us to see God more clearly. The only limitation to doing this is our comprehension and imagination.
The ultimate description of God though is the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Though strictly speaking this is not an oxymoron, it is in the same mould. We could call it a super-oxymoron; three ideas converge to create a thoroughly unique God, like no god that has ever been known before or since.
Oftentimes, God’s brilliance is too bright for me. Peter Rollins describes it as like looking at the sun. The more I see of God and try to fathom Him, the more overwhelmed I become. It is a beautiful metaphor and explains how I feel about these oxymorons. Sometimes, I just do not get it and my head hurts!
Un Dieu Défini est un Dieu Fini
This is a French saying that means ‘A defined God is a finished God’. Oxymorons offer a means of pushing ourselves to understand God more wholly; with faith and the Holy Spirit our minds grapple with the oxymoronic God and discover new aspects of his character.
Tensions and stumbling blocks for Christians
Oxymorons can cause problems too. Sometimes, these opposing words, or forces, do not create light with which to see God better, but behave more like brutes at the end of a rope. They yank us in opposite directions, and we fail to comprehend any overall meaning. So many people leave the church and turn away from God because they cannot draw close to a ‘Merciful Judge’ that speaks of ‘Foolish Wisdom’. To them, he is an ‘Absent Father’ who has turned his back on a suffering world and so they become ‘Devout Atheists’.
An oxymoronic God has oxymoronic followers
As Christians, oxymorons have been used to describe us too and can be just as confusing and challenging. Are we ‘sinning saints’ or ‘forgiven sinners’? The answer to this theological question has implications for our identity in Christ and our security as his children.
Additionally, we are called to spread the good news, which could certainly be described as ‘Old News’. How do we maintain the freshness of the gospel? I feel certain that we are not called to be ‘Silent Christians’?
More on Dislocated Christians
In the coming weeks and months, I will be delving more deeply into some of the oxymorons I have included above. I will be writing about them on this website and inviting other trusted Christian leaders to contribute as well. I hope I have piqued your interest and if that is the case, you will follow this website. Just click the follow button below or enter your email address and you will be regularly updated (but not too often!).
What have I missed?
If you can think of any other oxymorons that are used to describe God, Christians or the life of faith, then please comment below.
Meekness and Majesty
In the meantime, you could watch this video of a Graham Kendrick song that I sang as a child. The words are beautiful, and every verse is packed full of oxymoronic ideas and descriptions of God. Enjoy!
Articles that have been published in the Oxymoronic God series so far:
Dislocated Christians exists to create and support a community of like-minded people. Our prayer is that you’ll find some echoes of your own dilemmas with church and culture in these articles and it will encourage you to know others have the same struggles. Please like, comment on or share our articles if you’ve found them helpful. We’d be especially grateful if you could follow us, just click towards the bottom of the page.
Just as we are each works in progress, so too is Dislocated Christians. Sometimes we’ll get things wrong and we hope that when that happens, you’ll forgive us and continue to stick around.