I am always skeptical of Christian theologians and preachers who create seamless systems of belief. We’ve all heard these before: “Do A,B, and C. Avoid X, Y, and Z. Then insert promise here will happen to you. ” In easy systems like this, the Bible always says one thing; there are no contradictions or juxtapositions. Christianity is simply one stream of thought/belief.
What a sad state of affairs. The Bible, and indeed all of Christianity, is much more robust.
Take Ash Wednesday as an example. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1). So on the day that is the only day that we wear our Christianity publicly we are told not to practice our piety before others.
Later on, Jesus says, “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). But wait a second Jesus – you are saying this from a mountaintop! That is no secret!
Or take our Church year. On Ash Wednesday, we are quiet, reflective, thinking about our sins and faults, and taking care not to show off our faith. But then just ninety days later, the Holy Spirit rushes upon the Church at Pentecost and we are inspired to go out proclaiming the good news of God!
I don’t find these contradictions and juxtapositions unsettling. In fact, I think that they describe our spiritual lives. How many of us lead perfectly happy, unchanging spiritual lives? None of us. But how many of us go from one thing to another, in a constant state of spiritual flux? All of us.
When you are reminded that you are dust and at the same time reminded that you are a beloved child of God, don’t think that you have to choose one or the other. They’re both true. We are walking, talking, loving, praying juxtapositions.