In Praise of Paradox
I mentioned in the introduction that we must get used to the idea that antinomy and paradox will inevitably surround discussions such as this one. But the appeal to antinomy, paradox, and mystery is oftentimes troubling to those sympathetic to a less-than-Reformed understanding of God’s character and decree. In an attempted refutation of Calvinism and the “problem” of divine sovereignty, Jack Cottrell complains:
Calvinistic discussions of this problem are laced with words like paradox, antinomy, contradiction, and mystery. As Klooster says, “Divine sovereignty and human responsibility are paradoxical and beyond h man comprehension.” Despite this rather agnostic attitude, Calvinists have spent much time and energy trying to explain the unexplainable.
It may be that some Calvinists have given the impression that, in our discussions of the mysteries of the faith, we are attempting to exhaust what is inexhaustible. But surely Cottrell would not fault Calvinists any more than he would Arminians for attempting to bring together, as much as possible, what God’s revelation teaches concerning these mysteries. It is certainly not the case that the relationship of God to the world is absolutely inexplicable; rather, in whatever ways it is explicable, it will always remain for us incomprehensible as well.
This is yet another reason why it seems best to begin our discussions with the doctrine of Christ, specifically the person of Christ. Both Reformed and Arminian have agreed historically that when the Son of God became man, he did not give up his deity, his “Godness,” in order to take on a human nature. Arminians, like the Reformed, have historically been Chalcedonian in their affirmation of the incarnation.
Yet the Chalcedonian affirmations have always been seen to be paradoxical, even antinomic. [note 4: We should remember here that antinomy and paradox are always modes of creaturely expression; in God there is complete coherence and harmony such that no antinomies or paradoxes exist.] The Chalcedonian Creed is one example of the church’s attempt—and an accepted and acceptable attempt, at that—to “explain the unexplainable.” Not only so, but given that the incarnation itself is the “explanation” and application of God’s relationship to creation, we should expect that every other instantiation, indication, and explanation of such a relation would itself be paradoxical and antinomic and, in the end, incomprehensible.
The “explanations” therefore given by the Reformed of the relationship of God to creation, including his actions and reactions, will themselves be shrouded in mystery. Nevertheless, explanations are given both in biblical revelation and in theology. If we begin with christology, rather than with some abstract concept of antinomy, paradox, or mystery, we can start to see that all explanations of God’s relationship to creation can be understood properly only within the context of God’s relationship to creation as expressed in the incarnation. This, it seems to me, expands and enhances the Christ-centered approach to God’s revelation in such a way that the glory of God in his condescension, typified centrally in the gospel, is seen for what it is.
In all of this we must keep in mind, however, that there is no antinomy or contradiction in God. He is completely and exhaustively coherent in all that he says, does, and is. Thus, the admission of antinomy and paradox in Christianity points us to the complexity of God’s simplicity, the unfathomable depth that is God’s complete and incomprehensible perfection, for which, among other things, we worship him (Rom. 11:33ff.).
- D. A. Carson on antinomy
- “The Logical and Emotional Problems of Evil”
- John Piper, “The Sovereign God of ‘Elfland’ (Why Chesterton’s Anti-Calvinism Doesn’t Put Me Off)”
- Joel Arnold, “Theological Antinomy: A Complementarian Model for Paradox” (PhD diss., Bob Jones University, 2011), xii + 318 pp.