I love Scripture because it boldly declares. It doesn’t go around tip-toeing and trying to qualify everything. There are profound tensions in Scripture, but rather than attempting to soften them, or thinking that we need to explain them away, I think we need to embrace them and let them speak to us.
For most modern readers, when we come across issues like this, we tend to think there are contradictions. In reality, however, the biblical writers (and Jesus himself!) would have had to be pretty stupid to not realize that they were speaking or writing in ways to contradict themselves in such small spaces and periods of time.
Here are a few of my favourite New Testament examples of places where profound tensions are spoken of, and then left for the most part undefended. The reader must either believe or disbelieve. Most of these texts (but not all) are in some sense speaking of the tensions with regards to God’s sovereignty and our belief or unbelief of the gospel. I think that this would be a fascinating study to take on in more depth.
25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
13 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.
44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— 46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life.
23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.
48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.
9 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
2 Corinthians 4:3-4
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,
29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
2 Thessalonians 2:9-14
9 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The trick, I suppose is letting each side of the coin carry its full freight, preaching both with equal passion, and letting the Spirit of God work in the people of God through the Word of God accordingly. The trouble comes in when our fallen minds try to take these texts to their ‘next logical step’ and try to draw conclusions and syntheses that the biblical texts never make.
We need to just let the words of Scripture say what they say. We need to, at the end of the day, be able to say with the Apostle Paul, ‘We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God’ (2 Cor 4.2).