THE AGE OF PARADOXES by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson
Introduction: Everywhere you turn on social media, there are graduation pictures with parents and grandparents proud and excited to see their kids growing up and becoming successful. One thing that is relatively new with regards to the graduation attire are decorating the graduation caps. Here are some interesting ones that I came across: “Bye Buddy hope you find a job,” “This was nothing like high school musical,” “Did everyone see that? Because I will not be doing it again,” “Bye Mr. Anderson, I’m graduating, tardy or not,” “Thousands of years later,” “I don’t even go here,” “Last minute like everything else I did in high school,” “Ya’ll hiring?” and my favorite “I is smart.” The last one is sort of an oxymoron, a contradiction. On one hand, the student is claiming to be smart because he/she is graduating. On the other hand, the student should not be allowed to graduate since they don’t even know basic grammar. In this message on Graduation Sunday, I would like to speak on paradoxes, which are much more than just oxymorons or contradictions. I’ll explain the difference in a few moments. We are still in our series through 1 Peter and this message is directed towards our graduates, but it is for all of us. Main point: Ours is the Age of Paradoxes, much more than at any other time in history. Especially in the post 2020 world, we are smarter and dumber, united and divided, bold and fearful, and woke and wicked, all at the same time. It is vital that we adopt those paradoxes that please God and fulfill his purpose in his world. It is vital that we adapt to our new setting but still maintain our old convictions.
1 Peter 3:13 “And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good?”
Context: Keep in mind that that Peter had just quoted from Psalm 34, David’s psalm at the cave of Adullam. The previous verse, 1 Peter 3:12, said, “For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; But the face of the LORD is against those who do evil.” Here David was teaching the distressed, indebted, and dissatisfied people how to be ready for the bad days when it seemed that the wicked were winning. Peter was also telling the Christians that God can see what the wicked are doing and he will protect them from any who would try to harm them for living righteously. The conjunction “and” is more of an inference “then.” What an assurance! But, listen to the very next verse – 14 “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” It appears that Peter just used a paradox – “No harm will come to you if you follow God, but when harm comes to you because you follow God, don’t be afraid.” Paradox often gets confused with contradictions. There’s a difference: Contradiction: Out of two things, one is true, and the other is false. For e.g., living death or poor rich girl. Paradox: A statement that appears contradictory on the surface but can be true on further examination. I don’t have to suggest examples. We are living in the Age of Paradoxes and the culprit is the Internet, especially social media. Don’t misunderstand: The Internet has brought tremendous benefits to our world, but it has also created the Age of Paradoxes. Here’s how:
- We are Smarter and Dumber at the same time.
We are living in the Information Age. People from poor and remote corners of the world can access knowledge at just the click of a button. Unfortunately, the Internet is also filled with loads of false information, especially on social media, which was the root cause of much panic and fearmongering through the 2020 crisis.
- We are United and Divided at the same time
The world has become smaller, faster, and easier as communications, transactions, and even shopping have been revolutionized. Social media platforms have connected us with old friends and helped us make new ones. Unfortunately, the various social media platforms that were meant to connect us have also become weapons to attack one another. It’s easy to be a “keyboard warrior” and fire off a post or a tweet against someone you disagree with. If you really don’t like someone, you can cancel and shame them out of your tribe without giving them a chance to explain themselves or apologize.
- We are Bold and Afraid at the same time.
Researchers claim that in some areas self-esteem is on the rise, as young and old are unafraid to post their photos and videos online, and the list goes on. Unfortunately, people are afraid of being called out online for some action or lack thereof. Concurrently, many decisions of 2020 were, and still are, made out of fear of being shamed. Also, false information has also caused a lot of fear, as mentioned in the first point.
- We are Woke and Wicked at the same time.
“Woke” is the catchword for awareness regarding social justice and racism, especially on social media. Now, it’s everything from LGBTQ+, women’s rights, immigrants, and everyone who is disenfranchised. With as much self-proclaimed righteousness, wickedness is still on the rise. Pornography that takes advantage of women and children is on the rise like never before. Hate and bitterness hasn’t gotten any better. We are fooling ourselves into thinking that we are better because we are “woke.”
This is the world in which our post-2020 graduates are entering! Add to all these paradoxes, the political chaos of 2020 and 2021, the terrible violence and destruction of our major cities, the toxic cancel culture and censorship on social media, and the increasing attack on our Constitution and our values? As a result, we are now trillions of dollars in debts, divided as a people across racial, religious, and political lines, and facing an uncertain future. Things are no different across the globe – due to the shutdowns, people are struggling like never before, ISIS is back, Israel is under attack, and so much more. If our post-2020 graduates are to survive this Age of Paradoxes, they will have to seek a new set of paradoxes. They will have to learn to live the paradoxical life that Peter described in these verses. Listen again to 1 Peter 3 again – 13 “And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” On one hand, we have to live knowing that no harm will come to us if we live for God. On the other hand, we will have to accept the possibility that harm will come if we live for God. Nonetheless, we shouldn’t be afraid. Peter was now quoting from Isaiah 8:12. This was the promise God had given to Isaiah the prophet when Judah had turned to Assyria for help instead of turning to God. In time, the southern kingdom was also gone forever. It took going into exile for them to learn what it means by literally “Their fear do not fear.” Initially, it was, “don’t fear what they fear,” and then it became, “don’t fear what they threaten you with.” In other words, “nothing will harm you, but if harm comes, don’t fear.” Even though the people of the southern kingdom failed to follow this paradox, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego lived by this paradox in Babylon. They had to adapt to their new setting but still maintain their convictions:
- They complied but resisted every step of the way.
The complied when they were given Babylonian names, but they resisted when it came to eating unclean food. Daniel 1:8 “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank.” At the end of the 10 days, Daniel and the other three were 10 times in better shape than the others. You will also have to learn to comply and resist. I know that seems so contrary to our thinking, but, as a minority, if you don’t, you will lose your identity. In 2020, many of us only complied when we should have also resisted. In the post-2020 age, people will flock around those who can make sense out of the chaos, display a sense of discernment, and know when to comply and resist.
- They looked to the past but lived in the present.
A plan was hatched to trap Daniel. Everyone in the land was to pray to King Darius for the next 30 days. If not, the offender shall be cast into the den of lions, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians. What was Daniel’s response? Daniel 6:10 Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days.” We quickly focus on prayer, but did you notice the direction of his prayer? Daniel did not forget where he came from. There has been an attempt for quite some time to rewrite our past as a nation and a people. I won’t say that everything in our nation’s past has been perfect, but let’s never forget the Judeo-Christian foundation of our nation. You will have to go back and rediscover how we came about as a people. What did our founding fathers believe? Why did they think the way they did? Having said that, we are not to live in nostalgia. We are to live in the present.
- They worked as if it depended on them but prayed as if it depended on God.
Daniel 2 48 Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts; and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief administrator over all the wise men of Babylon. 49 Also Daniel petitioned the king, and he set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego over the affairs of the province of Babylon; but Daniel sat in the gate of the king. Can you imagine the workload of these 4 young men! Can you imagine the burden of the entire Babylonian Empire on their shoulders!
Nowadays, people don’t want to work. I was at a restaurant the other day. They had a hiring sign as well as a table setup with flyers and applications. So, I talked to the person, and she said, “People come by and apply and then they are back on the unemployment list. They rather collect free money than work.” How long can we do that? As someone once said, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”
Nonetheless, repeatedly, it is claimed that Daniel prayed every step of the way. Daniel 9 20 “Now while I was speaking, praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God for the holy mountain of my God, 21 yes, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, reached me about the time of the evening offering.” Many are collapsing in our world right now. Prayer will help you resist temptation, maintain your integrity, and refocus your life. Daniel prayed even though he was thrown in the lion’s den.
- Ultimately, they were aware of the hopelessness but remained hopeful for the future.
Daniel 9 16 “O Lord, according to all Your righteousness, I pray, let Your anger and Your fury be turned away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain; because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Your people are a reproach to all those around us. 17 Now therefore, our God, hear the prayer of Your servant, and his supplications, and for the Lord’s sake cause Your face to shine on Your sanctuary, which is desolate. 18 O my God, incline Your ear and hear; open Your eyes and see our desolations, and the city which is called by Your name; for we do not present our supplications before You because of our righteous deeds, but because of Your great mercies. 19 O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and act! Do not delay for Your own sake, my God, for Your city and Your people are called by Your name.”
In that prayer, you can sense both Daniel’s hopelessness in the present and his hopefulness for the future. Our best days as a nation and as a people are ahead of us. It will require repentance. It will require redemption through Jesus Christ. It will require you to live the life of paradoxes apart from the Internet and dedicated to Jesus Christ.
Post-2020 graduates, as you approach the new age of paradoxes, you will have to craft an identity that is distinct from your social media persona.
Ultimately, it comes down to the great paradox Jesus Christ. Hebrews 13:8 “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Do you know him? If you do, he will be with you no matter what age comes or goes.