We live in constant tension.
This is probably no surprise to you. Throughout everyday life, on grand and minute scales, we must balance between important, but seemingly separate, extremes. These aren’t opposites – “good” and “evil” are not held in tension, because we can (probably) agree that it’s safe to go all in on goodness. As long as everyone involved in the discussion has the same baseline by which they understand morality, we can learn to hold two separate goods together. For the purposes of this blog (and blogger), the baseline is belief in God and His Word. Grace and truth, humility and courage, friendship and charity, tradition and modernity, mystery and faith, [your denomination] and [my denomination] – all these and more can and must be held in tension simultaneously. As a professor at Ozark told our class last semester, “Wisdom is born from tension.”
Our baseline of belief in God has implications for how we explore these tensions. It’s vital to understand that humanity was created in the imago Dei; we were created by God, for God, and in God’s image. As those made in the image of an eternally communal triune God, the God who is love, we are relational beings (among many other things). While I hope to eventually write another post exploring this in greater depth, for now we can simply highlight the fundamental relationships we engage in: relationship with God, with ourselves, and with others. These relationships are in tension, overlapping, weaving together, and influencing one another. When God is central, they can flourish in harmony.
As I think about tension, triangles come to mind. Whenever two forces are straining against each other, a third force is required to provide direction and movement. When God is central, He steps into that role, becoming both the goal and the driving force guiding our lives through tension. Relationally, this means that love Himself is our motivation.
If you’re like me, you know just how easy it is to let priorities jump out of their proper order. Comfort strives for control. Being Right takes the reins. Loneliness sends you searching for safety. Don’t get me wrong: Rest, Truth, and Friendship are absolutely necessary, and each has their place. That place is “in tension” – tension with disciplined Work, loving Grace, and wider Charity, in this case.
Unbelief disrupts the proper tension in our relationships and lives, distorting love and leading us in fear instead. Ultimately, though, every tension between good things is able to be held only when it is held in submission to God.
As I mentioned earlier, I plan (or at least hope) to write a couple more blogs extrapolating thoughts from this post. Our lives are teeming with tensions, motivations, and relationships to be explored, and while I may just be a barely-budding philosopher and theologian, I hope this is an interesting and illuminating exercise! Below I’ll include some of the books and sources that have formed my ideas leading up to this post, in case you’d like to read from some more accomplished and experienced writers.
- Connected: Living in the Light of the Trinity by Sam Allberry unpacks the relational nature of God the Trinity in an illuminating way. I highly recommend reading it!
- Spiritual Friendship by Aelred of Rievaulx examines genuine friendship between believers and goes into greater detail on the tension between friendship and charity.
- Between Two Trees by Shane Wood is a great resource for understanding our relationships and sin’s effect on union.
- Messy Grace by Caleb Kaltenbach provides valuable insight and wisdom on navigating the tension between grace and truth in the midst of our culture’s conversations about sexuality.
- Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard dives into tension surrounding hope and “infinite resignation”, prioritizing the divine relationship over the ethical and weaving the two together.
- Holy Sexuality and the Gospel by Christopher Yuan discusses identity, biblical sexuality, and relational desire with great thoughtfulness.
- The Bible. Obviously.