This morning I found that today online there are 26 available copies of The Lion and the Lamb: Paradoxes of
the Christian Faith
by Gerald Kennedy*. Sixty years ago I paid $2.50 for my new hardback copy of that book that has been an enduring influence on my Christian journey. I had reached a point where I was encountering what I thought were glaring inconsistencies of the faith.
I thought of this book earlier today when I began to study our assigned scripture, Exodus 34:1-10, especially verses 6 and 7: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful
and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast
love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity
and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the
guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the
children and the children’s children.”
Sixty years ago I would have ground to a screeching halt at the fifth comma, finding it difficult to grasp how God could be merciful and gracious, abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin – and at the same time – failing to clear the guilty and extending the iniquity of parents to their children and grandchildren.
But Bishop Kennedy helped me to see this and other “inconsistencies” in a new light – as a paradox, which my dictionary defines as “a statement or proposition
seemingly self-contradictory or absurd, but in reality,
expressing a possible truth.”
But why is much of our faith expressed in paradoxes? Because life itself is full of paradoxes. Humans are bundles of paradoxes. No one I know – particularly myself – can be fully explained by reason. G.K. Chesterton also wrote about paradoxes and said that the world is “almost reasonable, but not quite.”
Reason can take us only so far.
So, in exploring the seeming inconsistencies between sin and grace, foolishness and wisdom, judgment and forgiveness, gentleness and austerity, humility and assurance, etc., Kennedy concludes: “Christianity dares to go beyond logic, because life does.
It dares to say the thing that contradicts reason, because
life does. It is not afraid to state its truth in paradoxes,
because life does…”
Therefore, I can read Exodus 34:6 and 7 and accept that the God of both the Old and New Testaments is a God of law and grace. The beauty of our faith is that it is realistic in the deepest sense, setting forth its truth paradoxically in a world of paradox. PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION
This doesn’t mean, however, that when we come to something in faith or scripture that seems inconsistent that we can simply dismiss it as paradox. In The Lion
and the Lamb,
Kennedy works through these seeming inconsistencies to show how both sides of a paradox contain truth. For example, in Moses’ encounter with God on Mt. Sinai, the Lord describes himself as “forgiving
iniquity and transgression….but visiting the iniquity
of the parents upon the children and the children’s
This is a key truth that is as important to you and me as it was to the Israelites under Moses. Yes, God abounds in steadfast love and is anxious to forgive us. At the same time, forgiveness may not necessarily erase the consequences of our acts. If I drive carelessly and as a result maim or kill someone, if I am truly penitent and resolve to change, I am assured of God’s forgiveness. But that will not bring back to life the person I have killed, nor comfort his or her children and children’s children. Not by God’s judgment upon me will their family suffer, but by the irreversible thing I have done.
Moses’ response was beneficial for his people: “…Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and
worshipped. He said, ‘If now I have found favor in your
sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go with us. Although
this is a stiff-necked people, pardon our iniquity and our
(34:8.9). When we sin, although our own repentance is still required, others can stand with us before the throne of grace and intercede for us – as we also can stand with others when they seek God’s mercy.
(*Isaiah 11:6, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the
leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young
lion and the fatling together…”)