The Amazing World of Paradoxical Truth: Proverbs 26:4-5
“4) Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Or you will also be like him. 5) Answer a fool as his folly deserves, That he not be wise in his own eyes.” ‭‭ These two verses are confusing. So do you answer a fool or not answer a fool? Don’t these verses contradict each other?
Many years ago, I heard a message based on these two verses that deeply impacted my thinking and understanding of truth. The speaker talked about two kinds of truth.
First he defined “absolute truth.” These are statements that stand alone and are always true by themselves. For example, every one of the Ten Commandments are absolute truths. “Thou shalt not steal” is an absolute truth that never has an exception. The same holds true for the other nine.
But then the Bible has what he called “Paradoxical Truth.” These are statements of truth framed in opposites. Proverbs 26:4-5 is a perfect example. Sometimes you don’t answer a fool, other times you give an appropriate answer.
Another example of a paradoxical truth is a stop light. Red means “stop” and green means “go.” They are exact opposites and must work together to eliminate confusion and direct traffic. Truth is sometimes framed in opposites.
We have many examples of paradoxical truth in the English language. One indium says; “he who hesitates is lost.” But another says; “look before you leap.” That is also true. So which do you follow?
Well … it depends on the situation. If you are in Chicago being pursued by a gang with clubs and knives and the are only twenty yards behind you and you come up to a steep bank overlooking a river, the answer is “he who hesitates is lost.” Jump and pray for deep water.
However, if the gang is six blocks behind you, it might be wise to “look before you leap.” Maybe there’s a ladder or some steps down to the water. Either way, you are probably going swimming.
The problem comes when you treat one side of a paradoxical truth like absolute truth. It is not always true that “he who hesitates is lost.” Take time and study out a situation or get wise counsel before moving ahead with a transaction. But, if you come across a great deal on something you are looking for then you better be decisive and buy immediately or someone will beat you to it.
Here was the big eye opener in the message that day, many doctrines of theology in the Bible are paradoxical truths. For example, God’s sovereignty and man’s free will are paradoxical truths. They sound like opposites, but they are intended to work together and they actually need each other.
The problem comes when you treat one side like an absolute truth to the exclusion of the other. The Calvinist and the Arminian will forever be fighting over the two sides of this paradoxical truth. But, let’s be honest, both sides are taught in the Bible.
Again, if you asked me if I depend on the walk in the Spirit or human reason, my answer would also be “yes!” In all my ways I try to acknowledge God and lean not on my own understanding. At the same time, I work on personal goals and the desires of my heart. I desperately believe in Gods divine power, grace and intervention in may life and I daily try to work on personal growth and development. Both are needed, beneficial and taught in Scripture.
If this concept is new to you, it might take a while to think your way through this tangled web, but in the long run it will be liberating. You may need to slow down and read this post several times and carefully think your way through these principles.
Here is the catch, beware not to mistake paradoxical truths for absolute truths. Be careful, most moral issues come down to absolute truth. “Thou shalt not commit adultery” is an absolute truth. There is no exception to absolute truths. The Bible clearly defines all sexual sins as absolute truth. (See 1 Thessalonians 4:1-9)
The solution is to study to show yourself approved unto God, rightly discerning the words of truth. As you sincerely and diligently study the Bible you will soon be able to discern absolute truths from paradoxical truths. The Bible clearly presents both sides of paradoxical truth as you read and study.
Let me share a short list of some paradoxical truths that are easy to stumble over.
Faith and Works Divine Sovereignty and human free will Justification and Sanctification Mercy and Justice Compassion and Tough Love Wait on God and Move Forward in Faith
I’ve learned the value of paradoxical truths. They do not fight or conflict with each other within Gods frame of reference. Instead, they compliment each other.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global