One day over coffee with a fellow mom, theology books were on the table — alongside sippy cups and cracker crumbs. My friend remarked that her theological breakthrough arrived when she realized that biblical truths and distinctions existed for every area of her life. I knew exactly what she meant. I, too, look back with gratitude at how I moved from a floundering Christian to a growing Christian when I accepted the both-and nature of the Christian life.
I have sat alongside many puzzled Christians in Bible studies over the years, and I used to be the first among them. These struggles often center around the hard providences of God — how God wields his power and authority — either in the Scriptures or in the difficult corners of our lives. We begin by asking, “Well, if [insert painful, confusing, awful, inconvenient reality] is true, then how could God . . . ” The ellipses are replaced with “be good” or “allow this to happen” or “also declare this other seemingly contradictory reality to be true.”
This setting is where a both-and hermeneutic brings clarity and comfort — and not just to our minds, but into virtually every situation in life.
Rather than asking how could God, we instead declare that we know A to be true, and we know B to be true — and they simply must both be embraced and lived by, even if we feel a tension. Our instinct might be to say that it must be one or the other, but we should take a cue from Charles Spurgeon and his refusal to reconcile “friends,” who, though different, actually do not need to be reconciled at all, after all.
Both-And Truths About God
Accepting truths that seem to be in tension is essential and foundational to Christian faith. Throughout Scripture we see many such paradoxes:
Is Jesus fully God, or is he fully man?
Does God sovereignly elect his people, or must we evangelize the lost?
Did Matthew write the first Gospel, or did God?
Both-And Truths About Moms
The both-and nature of biblical truth extends beyond doctrine and into application as well. Until we grasp this reality, our mothering will be flummoxed at every turn. For example,
Should I spontaneously pray on the fly, or should I pray at appointed, structured times?
Should I call my children to repentance, or should I wait for the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts?
Should I treat my children with patience and gentleness even when I don’t feel like it, or should I beg the Lord to give me a joyful spirit toward them?
Both-And Truths About Me
Also implicit in the both-and nature of the Christian life is the multi-dimensional sovereign working of God. Often, there are not easy or simple answers to “how could God” or “why would God” questions, but there is an answer. God is always doing ten thousand more things in any situation than we could possibly ever know or even imagine.
Could God be dealing with me in my sin?
Could God be protecting me from something I cannot see?
Is this pain real and intense?
Is this circumstance still a manifestation of God’s perfect, never-failing fatherly love toward me?
With minds and hearts muddled and limited by our sin, we will never be able to hold all of these truths in proper relation — especially while we hold the laundry basket, the grocery bag, a 3-year-old, and the baby. But an essential element to trusting God’s providence is simply knowing that the paradoxes exist, and that God is secretly weaving together a beautiful tapestry, even though it may look like a miserable mess from our mistaken vantage point. Without this trust under all our questions and troubles, every trial — whether an embarrassingly public toddler tantrum or a wretchedly effective terrorist attack — becomes an indictment against our faith rather than a building block to support it.
If we are going to survive and thrive as wives and mothers, we must become both-and women. Our sanity desperately begs for it, and our theology consistently demands it.