“What is light?” I asked my father.
“Well, that depends upon what you need it for.” My father was somewhat an expert on the subject, having worked on optical design, first for Sandia Labs, and then at Goerz. “When you design a lens, light is like the waves that you see upon the sea. All of the colors of the rainbow are but different lengths between the peaks and troughs of light’s waves. But when you take a closer look, pondering the smallest bits that fall like dust upon a photocell or a roll of film, then you best remember that light is really a particle.”
This was my first encounter with what is known as a paradox. Two understandings that are both true, yet opposite. At Christmas and the holidays, paradoxes abound.
To name just a few:
• Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as an example of family values.
• Peace on Earth, promised. Then Herod slays the innocents.
• Wisemen with extravagant gifts and Jesus’ uncompromising emphasis on simplicity.
Paradoxes help us to accept God’s built in ambiguity. What is God like? Well, that depends upon what is happening when I call on him. When I am desperately in need of his comfort, he is there like the waves of the sea washing over me. But when I do theology, and analyze God down to the smallest bits, then I’m better off accepting my own uncertainty. In the details of everyday life, I seem to be able to discern that something is good and God’s will for me to do, or perceive that something is doable and within my capabilities, but I can’t have both. It’s the darkness within me that still doesn’t comprehend the light.