This is the kind of entry where I am required by federal and ecclesiastical law to make disclaimers, so I’ll make them quickly.
There is no question that the gospel is comprised largely of a series of paradoxes. So for example, in our weakness Christ is strong, and through the death of Christ love has conquered. In addition to paradox, there are also certain tensions that are at the heart of life with God. So theologians speak of “the already/not-yet tension” to describe the ways that we are already participating in the kingdom of heaven here and now through Christ, and are yet anticipating His rule and reign being fully realized in the future. We aren’t allowed to resolve these tensions prematurely–to emphasize the already to the exclusion of the not-yet or the not-yet to the neglect of the already. That is a tension that must be maintained.
It is also true that we live in a world where people compulsively and simplistically label the other in ways that are both childish and destructive. Thus you can’t just disagree with the policies of George W. Bush, via Michael Moore his presidency was driven by secret Middle Eastern oil ties. You can’t just disagree with Barack Obama, via Glenn Beck he is a socialist communist Manchurian candidate bent on destroying the free world. You can’t just disagree with something you read in a theology book, you have to discredit the pastor or author’s entire career, condemn their wife and dog and kids, and highlight a shady friend they had in 1983. My comic books have more well-rounded characters than this. For people who see the world in such terms, they need a heaping serving of nuance in their lives.
But on the other hand, in recent years I feel like Christians I know (including myself) are always talking about the “tension.” Like, “I know what Jesus says about this very plainly, but I just think you have to maintain the tension…” or, “I don’t feel good about supporting such and such position, but you know there is this tension between thus and such…” Does anybody know what I mean?
So if you will permit me to burn down my forest of disclaimers, I am weary of “the tension.” I am tired of postmodern angst and fashionably tortured souls; it is no longer 1995 and living in ambiguity does not appeal to me. Much of the rhetoric of “I’m just dealing with the tension between…” is actually a thin veil for, “I know what Jesus would have me do but I’m not going to do it” on one hand, OR “I’m simply allowing myself to be manipulated by guilt.”
For example, when I have been in parts of the world where I saw abject poverty, there was a time when I would have come home and spent days feeling guilty for having a house. How can I own a house in a world with so much suffering? For better or worse, I don’t do any of that anymore. If I really felt like Jesus wanted me to sell my house and all my possessions, I would do it today. But I don’t feel like He is asking that of me. He is asking me to be a good steward of what He’s given me, give generously, and use my platform to speak for those that don’t have a voice. So that is what I am going to do. I’m not “living in the tension.” I’m walking in the Spirit. I will do what the Master says, and if He doesn’t ask a certain thing of me I won’t entertain guilt about it.
Given everything I know about the beauty described in Scripture that comes from walking in the Spirit, I find it hard to believe that God’s intentions for a life with Him is to walk around in constant ambiguity. Walking in the Spirit is God’s radical alternative to the soul-sucking tendency of going around making pro and con lists all the time in your head and simply living indecisively. I believe it is possible to be so in sync with God’s heart and God’s voice as to be utterly and completely ruled by His peace. When you have it, you move forward. When you don’t, you stay where you are.
“Living in the tension” has become the coffeehouse pseudo-intellectual excuse to not give ourselves over to the Spirit who leads us into all truth. If I feel that God has me stirred up or uneasy about something, then I am going to change it. But if I feel stirred up and uneasy and then–through prayer, Scripture and community–discern that I am simply feeling guilt or condemnation, then I’m going to fling that accusation and doubt into the presence of Jesus and walk away. That kind of “tension” can and should be resolved.
Hear my heart today: God doesn’t mean for you to live in constant ambiguity. Perpetual ambiguity is a very unsexy way to live what is supposed to be a colorful and adventurous life with God. Obedience will not always bring absolute certitude, but it will bring clarity. You can know His voice. You can do what He says.
Stop living in the tension–God wants you to walk in the Spirit!