A truth that has been very helpful to me for many years can be summarized with this statement: Life works better when we learn to live with creative tension. It is a truth that I grasped early in my college studies. Let me illustrate. We face two contrasting concepts when we think of education. Who is more important to the success of learning, the teacher, or the student? Our approach to education will have to face this creative tension.
The person holding the first position is convinced that the teacher is the most important person because she has this wealth of life experience, knowledge and wisdom that the student needs to grasp for a successful life. Students should attend with interest and gratitude as the teacher dispenses her wisdom into their receptive minds. I taught as a seminary professor for many years. The faculty members could have easily spent ten more years in undergraduate, graduate and post graduate studies. In addition, most have years of pastoral experience. Students must be waiting with bated breath to learn from me!
But you may be shaking your head in horror! Why. Because you are convinced that the student as the most important person and you believe that the educational process should be directed to his unique needs, interests and potential. This is his or her education! Learners must find the answers themselves with the teacher serving as a guide to their learning.
So, is the classroom to be a teacher-centered learning environment, or a student-centered learning environment?
But I don’t get sidetracked on my illustration, The point I want to make is that these two perspectives must be held in creative tension. Both are important and must be respected. But as I was investigating this issue long ago, I realized that much of life is learning to live with creative tension. Some examples: husband wife relationships, parent child relationship, how much to save vs. how freely to spend, early risers vs. night owls, buy foreign goods vs “made in USA,” Republican vs. Democrat vs. Independent.
Have I made my point, or do I need to add another twenty-five examples?
Where are you in conflict with someone because they see life from one point of view and you from another? Or something seems vitally important to you that another person treats as insignificant. Are we to argue, belittle, ignore, cave in, or divorce? Too often we feel compelled to straighten the person out!
Let me approach this another way. All my adult life I’ve been a follower of Jesus Christ. In the process I encountered a lot of Bible training through attending the Moody Bible Institute, reading the Bible and Christian literature, and interactions with fellow followers of Christ. In all of this I’ve gained my own understanding of the dynamics of a relationship with Jesus Christ. And I’ve discovered that many biblical truths can be approached from different perspectives. There are hundreds of denominations that “defend the truth” as they understand the Bible. Pastors and church leaders sometimes want to know if my theology is Reform, Covenant, Dispensational, etc. Am I pretrib, midtrib or posttrib?
Let me hasten to say what I am not saying. I am not saying that we do not hold personal convictions. But what I am saying is that we must be very careful about creating belief systems that lock us in because we don’t want to have to live with creative tension. Here’s an example. Christians talk about free grace, Lordship salvation, and eternal security. They are concerned with what it means to know that we are secure in our salvation, and if there is any way a person can lose that standing. Whatever position you take there is the danger that you will minimize the truth of what someone else is saying. Rather than holding truth in creative tension we want to settle it by a position whereby I don’t have to take seriously what the other person is saying. Or, minimizing one portion of Scripture because it doesn’t fit my theological position.
Someone said that the first word we will utter when we reach heaven will be “Oh.” The apostle Paul said, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (I Cor. 13:12 ESV). The Message paraphrases it this way, “We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!” If this man of God meant what he said in the passage I’ve cited, then I understand him to be saying that there were some issues that even he wouldn’t resolve until he went to be with the Lord.
Living with creative tension makes us more humble, more gracious, more ready to listen than lecture. Creative tension forms an environment in which we can grapple with important biblical truths and learn from each other. After all, even these two giants of the faith, Peter and Paul, didn’t see everything eye to eye (Gal. 2:11–14, 2 Peter 3:15, 16).
I’d like to leave you with some questions to think about.
1. Am I by nature an arguer? Am I quick to say, “Yes, but. . . ,” in order to prove the other person wrong?
2.Am I afraid of, threatened by. or resistant to ideas that differ from what I’ve been taught to believe?
3. Do I know how “speak the truth in love,” and disagree without being disagreeable, harsh, or caustic?