The Truth is Never in the Middle

Contradiction confuses truth, but moderation abuses it.

There are two sides to every story. In the American political system, there are liberals and conservatives. In the many stories lately of unarmed black men being killed, there are cop supporters and protester supports. And in the recent Duggars scandal, there are those promoting justice and those promoting mercy. While most are quick to pick sides, some people are willing to look at the bigger picture and consider both sides. And according to conventional wisdom, the truth is always in the middle.

That's because there's always an element of truth in each side. Liberals are right that some things need to change and conservatives are right that some things don't. Both cops and protesters are guilty of evil while making good points. And when it comes to sin, Christianity nimbly juxtaposes justice and mercy. And since two contradictory sides can't both be truth, we're left with creating a third side that's a composite of the two.

In western thinking, this is called the law of non-contradiction: "nothing can both be and not be." For example, if liberals want everything to progress and conservatives don't want anything to, they can't both be true. Either everything should or everything shouldn't because logic cannot abide contradictions. Thus, since both can't be entirely true, neither are entirely true; the truth must exist as a third option. 

Of course, this is only one of the three classic laws of thought. Another important one is the law of excluded middle: "everything must either be or not be." For example, a human being is either alive or dead. In this case, there can be no third option until The Walking Dead becomes a reality show. Some will say that this law doesn't apply to every situation because a fork in a road can't force a left or right turn when stopping or turning around are also options. But if this law of thought isn't universal, then perhaps the law of non-contradiction isn't either.

All of the laws that govern most of our thinking assume that truth is linear. They assume that every perception of information begins with an observation and ends with a conclusion. However, this doesn't take into account the temporal and spatial limitations of human observation. For example, since the earth is round, day and night occur simultaneously at different points. The truth is not dawn or dusk or some other amalgam of the two; the truth is both. Furthermore, quantum mechanics have also shown that particles can exist in two places at the same time (a principle known as superposition). Truth, then, has moved from an observable beginning to not one, but two conclusive ends.

In this way, truth is not linear but circular; it's not a spectrum along which middle points can be drawn but a sphere beyond which middle points cannot exist. Contradictions are not only accepted but understood as fundamental to existence. Philosophers refer to this as paraconsistent or inconsistency-tolerant logic. And while it exhausts our ability to know and comprehend truth, it removes understanding as an obstacle to faith.

One of the most taxing and overanalyzed biblical contradictions is the human free will versus divine sovereignty debate: can humanity be morally responsible if God is sovereign? In other words, how can God direct our steps and still hold us accountable for our actions?

Some have tried to explain this by limiting freedom to mean freedom to do what we desire which would make it compatible with God's sovereignty (compatibilism). Thus, as sinners, we're only free to do what we desire: sin. But as Christians, we're freed to our new desire: righteousness. God can still hold us accountable because we're the ones making the choice, but our freedom is bound by our nature. However, this doesn't offer an explanation for pre-Fall Adam and Eve. If they weren't already predisposed to desiring sin, then they shouldn't have sinned.

On the other side, some have limited God's knowledge to only exhaustively include the past and the present leaving the future open (open theism). Thus, if God has chosen to not know the future, then he can't be held responsible for it--only we can. We exist as completely free agents making good and bad choices, and God becomes a student of human behavior ordering the universe based on past experience. However, this fails to explain biblical prophecy, particularly prophecies about God's triumph over evil, making trust in God ultimately uncertain.

Instead of creating moderate positions that only demonstrate a limited being's ability to limit other things, we ought to accept the dynamic tension found in Scripture:
Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?" But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?'" Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?
Paul doesn't even try to answer his own hypothetical question because the answer is beyond human understanding. In fact, contradictions exist because of our own limits, and we can only resolve them by imposing our limits on God. Joy and sorrow, light and darkness, good and evil--all of these things appear to exist in tension because we're human. But to embrace contradictions is to embrace our humanity and a faith that trusts God more than ourselves. Because by placing the truth in the middle, we've made faith dependent on understanding and our infinite God dependent on our finite minds.

Practically speaking, this means being a liberal or a conservative while acknowledging the value of the other rather than devaluing them both by playing the moderate. It means tweeting about how #BlackLivesMatter and letting others tweet about how #BlueLivesMatter instead of accomplishing nothing by saying that #AllLivesMatter. It even means championing God's desire for justice knowing that others will remind us about his mercy. Because to be a moderate in that case would require not fully representing both attributes. And the problem with this should speak for itself.