What is a paradox? For purposes of discussion, let’s use its common definition. A paradox is a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained proves to be well founded or true. The problem with trying to discuss the ten greatest Paradoxes of Christianity is that the author cannot provide irrefutable proof for them; therefore some may argue that they are not a paradox at all. However, people of faith would disagree with that conclusion because they do not need the kind of proof positive that non-believers would require. Believers have been bestowed with the greatest [Theological] Virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity. And so, while lack of proof causes unbelievers to dismiss Christianity; it doesn’t do that for believers. Lukewarm Christians may grow weary about defending what seems to be the impossible but that is another article.
Eventually, believers and non-believers alike will discover the necessary evidence required to prove that the paradoxes are indeed well founded and true and anything but contradictory or absurd - that will come at the end of their lives.
So, what is the point of this article if Great Christian paradoxes cannot be proven, at least not for the non believers? It is to support the faithful who will also have questions about some of the same points as our unbelieving friends, neighbors or family members. Wondering, pondering or asking questions isn’t the problem. The problem is the wholesale refusal to think about God, or the tendency to dismiss God, because we can’t figure Him out. In light of that, what are the ten greatest Paradoxes of Christianity?
Paradox 1: God is Trinitarian in nature. This means that when we talk about God we may be asked to distinguish which person we are referring to. It could be any one of the three Divine Persons: God the Father, God the Son or God the Holy Spirit. Or we may be thinking more generally of all three at one time, even though each divine person is uniquely distinct from one another. It is at that point, that some accuse us of veering away from the worship of one omnipotent God. But our faith teaches us that “God is one but not solitary. The names - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - do not designate various modalities of the divine being for they are distinct from one another. He is not the Father who is the Son; nor is the Son he who is the Father; nor is the Holy Spirit he who is the Father of the Son. They are distinct from one another in their relations of origin. The Father generates the Son who is begotten; and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The divine unity is Triune.” [CCC 254] This great paradox will remain a mystery because few of us can really understand what that means.
Basically, a full understanding of the nature, substance and relationship of the Trinity is lost on us [creatures] because only God can know and understand Himself. He is Creator and we are His creatures. Therefore, the three Divine Persons are the only ones capable of fully knowing their Divine substance and their distinct relationship with the other Persons of the Trinity. We creatures will also never fully understand or comprehend God’s Creation. Since we can’t understand/know God, we obviously will always have difficulty explaining the Trinity, using human terms, understandings and reasonings, to ourselves, our children and others. However, that should not dissuade us from dismissing the mysterious nature of God. If it was possible to come to understand the nature, relationship and substance of the Trinity through mere reasoning, it seems logical to conclude that Jesus would not have had to submit to the Incarnation or His passion and death for our sakes. Neither would we need God, for we would be demi-gods.
Even the Church has struggled to explain the Trinity using acceptable terminology and dogma throughout the course of the centuries since Jesus’ Resurrection while striving to avoid the introduction of heresy. Basically, a slip of a word here or there changes everything with regard to our understanding about the Trinity and God. The Church is the first to admit that the Mystery will remain a mystery. “But his inmost Being as Holy Trinity is a mystery that is inaccessible to reason alone or even to Israel’s faith before the Incarnation of God’s Son and the sending of the Holy Spirit.” [CCC 500].
When left to human imaginations and reasonings, the very nature and even expectation of the Divine God changes with time and cultures. Most cultures eventually reason that for God to be God, He must be an omnipotent deity. If he does not possess omnipotence (all powerful), it is logical to assume He could not have been the Creator and isn't the one true God. Man’s struggle to define God helps prove that this is one paradox that will never be fully understood or proven even when fully accepted by Faith; And that will be the topic of the next article: Faith. Yet, we know God to be Triune in part because God has revealed Himself to mankind throughout history; the Father spoke three times in the New Testament. He spoke in the Old Testament as well. The Holy Spirit was also present at several main events recorded in the New and Old Testaments. And of course we have the incarnated Christ revealing to us who He was and who the Trinity was. So even when/if observers could not understand the Divine Trinitarian revelations found in “both the Old and New Testaments and in traces within His creation” [CCC 50] I Am Who Am is still God. But it does help to see and accept with eyes of faith. And it is also true that all of us are disaffected by pervasive polytheistic or atheistic traditions that swirl around us. Consequently our personal and institutional beliefs can erode Faith and Truth due to misunderstandings and misperceptions about God, unless we are careful to protect ourselves from these influences.
When praying to God or talking about Him, which person are you thinking about? Pondering? Why? Have you ever tried explaining the Trinity to a child or even other adults and found yourself searching for the right words? It will be helpful to pull out the Catholic Catechism as you begin such conversation. Read the paragraphs that explain the Trinity. Also ask God to help you explain His truths in words that make sense, before embarking on such a discussion. Great minds that have come before us have helped to formulate the dogma [light] of the Church that is explained in the Catechism. It is one great resource that you should all have in your home and refer to often. Yes, it uses great big words to explain and describe the relationship and substance of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and other concepts, precepts and principles. But it helps to remind ourselves that matters pertaining to God are by their very nature so much bigger than matters pertaining to the human person (and sometimes science uses big words too). So, big words help to impart the reality - God is Great! He is Mystery. He is Creator of the universe! And any words used will always be too inferior and too human to define our omnipotent, Triune God. And that’s ok. After all, He is the Creator and we are merely His beloved creatures.