Both And vs. Either Or

June 2022

When I was in seminary back at the turn of the millennium, I became fascinated by the way that the main Christian spiritual realities are expressed in the form of a paradox: that God is perfectly merciful, yet perfectly just; that man can have free will and yet God is absolutely sovereign; that God is three yet one. As a much older and more experienced Christian, I can say my amazement regarding this concept has only deepened. The more I dig into Scripture, the more I see how “both and” is assumed. As I frequently present on the formation of a Christian world view, I find myself again and again talking about this concept when I present the lens of Creation. The idea of “both and” is foundational to our faith as God is both three and one. Because of this core concept we can understand other realities presented thusly in Scripture, such as that humans are also both three and one: spirit, soul, and body, but one being (cp. Ge. 2:7 and Heb. 4:12).1 Men and women can be both equal and opposite (see Ge. 2:18c,23). One can be equal in worth (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 1:3-14), but opposite in role and ability (Eph. 5:22-33). God then takes this concept and translates it in the Church into unity in diversity (Eph. 4:1-16). We are both one and different!

The world, however, cannot fathom this paradox. Because the god of this world is a singular entity who is only spirit, he cannot understand “both and”. For him it is “either or”. Thus, you can be either equal or opposite, but not both. You can be either spirit or flesh, not both. You can live either in the material world or in the spiritual world, but not both. The world preaches this all the time. Their form of “opposite” or “diversity” is complete division. Their form of “equality” or “unity” is that no difference can exist on any plane whatsoever. The world and its dark lord cannot fathom how anyone can be both opposite and equal, both one and different. And so, they ridicule those who attempt to do what they cannot understand. They attempt to divide by rejecting our community or unify by removing our individuality.

The Church is designed to be “both and”. When we get into bickering about how those happy clappy Christians are shallow or how the frozen chosen don’t have a real relationship with God, we are playing into the Enemy’s hands. When we divide over the “how”, we deny that God calls us to “both and”.2 When we figure out how to live and worship together, because of the “what”, affirming our amazing differences and figuring out how to express them alongside each other, we exalt our Lord who redeemed us to be his opposite and equal: opposite in role, equal in worth. For that is what true relationship is about.

Image Credit: “Both ... And” by J.M. Diener

  • 1. I am aware of the discussion whether humans are two-part (soul-body) or three-part (soul-spirit-body) and I respect my brothers and sisters who hold two the two-part position. However, the three-part view helps with the argument here, so please bear with me.
  • 2. See J.M. Diener, “Unity and Division in the Church Part 1 – Unity”, WolfHawke.com, 2017 < https://www.wolfhawke.com/musings/devotionals/church-unity-and-division-1-unity > (accessed 2022-05-27).