Life is complicated, isn’t it? We want to do one thing, but we find ourselves doing another. A certain argument about life or God makes sense to us for a time, but then there is a contradictory argument that seems to have merit as well. We want life to be black and white, but it often shifts into gray.
Often I feel like our world (and my own life) is caught between two polarities, or strong opposing arguments. For example, Republicans and Democrats fight it out, both in Washington and at family dinner tables throughout the country. We are taught that God is both loving and just—but we can’t quite figure out how that works. Often when counseling I try to encourage folks to accept themselves right where they are at, but also work toward change.
Life seems to be full of contradictions. Another word for these contradictions are dialectics.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was a German philosopher came up with a theory that attempts to reconcile these apparent contradictions. (I know I’m bringing up a philosopher, but stay with me.) In short, he said that the contradiction between a proposition (thesis) and its antithesis is resolved at a higher level of truth (synthesis).
Let’s look at an example that I think is pretty important for personal and spiritual growth. Position A might say that to grow, you always need to be examining and working on improving yourself. So you might always want to be in counseling, or reading a book about improving a particular area of your life. If you are a spiritual person, you might think about this as applying the ‘truth’ to your life on a regular basis.
On the other hand, Position B might say that it is important to love and accept yourself just as you are, without requirements or prerequisites. If you are a spiritual person, you might think about this as accepting ‘grace’ as a free gift.
But this creates a contradiction. How can you accept yourself just as you are, but also work toward improvement? They seem like oil and water, impossible to mix. And so most folks struggle, leaning one way or another. They might become so focused on acceptance that they ignore real problems or issues in their own lives or the lives of their loved ones. Or, they might become so focused on constant improvement that they become unhappy, never satisfied with their current situation.
I believe, like Hegel did, that when we see a contradiction or dialectic, there is usually a deeper truth that underlies the conflict. And if we stick with it long enough, we might just figure it out.
So for example, I believe that you have to love and accept yourself in order to truly grow and change. I think grace provides the foundation for truth to be applied. I think they work in concert with one another. For example, you might remember that in his gospel, John writes that Jesus was full of grace and truth.
He had both. Fully.
And I think we do best when we experience both grace and truth. Together.
Next time you find yourself struggling with an apparent contradiction, spend some time thinking about it. Reflect on it. Might there be a deeper truth that underlies the contradiction? If you can see this deeper truth, you might experience less conflict and more peace in that area of your life.
Discussion: What is one area of your life that you experience a contradiction? Could you stick with that dialectic, and just reflect on it for a while?