A piv­otal para­dox for us to under­stand is that sim­plic­i­ty is both a grace and a dis­ci­pline. It is a grace because it is giv­en to us by God. There is no way that we can build up our willpow­er or con­tort our nat­ur­al ten­den­cies to attain it. It is a gift to be gra­cious­ly giv­en and received. At the same time, sim­plic­i­ty is also a dis­ci­pline because it is some­thing we are called to do. Spir­i­tu­al dis­ci­plines (prayer, med­i­ta­tion, etc.) do not give us sim­plic­i­ty, but they do put us in the place where we can receive it. Per­haps we need to learn to speak in terms of dis­ci­plined grace.” Isn’t that the pro­found real­i­ty which under­lies the sym­bi­ot­ic alliance between faith and works?

A sec­ond para­dox is close­ly aligned with the first; Chris­t­ian sim­plic­i­ty is both easy and dif­fi­cult. It is easy in the same way in which all oth­er Chris­t­ian graces are easy once they have ingrained into the habit struc­ture of our lives. It is dif­fi­cult because there are times of strug­gle and effort, times when we despair and feel that the com­plex­i­ties of this life are about to do us in. But occa­sion­al­ly, in the midst of the chaos we have a sense of enter­ing into true Chris­t­ian Sim­plic­i­ty, know­ing that it is only by the grace of God. 

The third para­dox has to do with the bal­ance between the inner and out­er dimen­sions of sim­plic­i­ty. As I men­tioned before, liv­ing in Chris­t­ian sim­plic­i­ty would be eas­i­er to under­stand and to prac­tice if we could only reduce it to a sys­tem of exter­nal rules. How­ev­er, an out­er expres­sion of true sim­plic­i­ty must nec­es­sar­i­ly flow from the inner resources. With­out an inner sim­plic­i­ty, all exter­nal efforts are in vain. At the same time, we delude our­selves if we think we can pos­sess the inner real­i­ty of sim­plic­i­ty with­out it hav­ing a pro­found effect upon the way we live.

The fourth para­dox is par­tic­u­lar­ly rel­e­vant to those who seek to fol­low Christ in such a mate­ri­al­is­tic world. It is the affir­ma­tion of both the good­ness and the lim­i­ta­tion of mate­r­i­al things. To deny the good­ness is to be ascetic. To deny the lim­i­ta­tion is to be mate­ri­al­is­tic. So often the bib­li­cal teach­ing on pro­vi­sion has been tak­en and twist­ed into a doc­trine of glut­to­nous pros­per­i­ty. Incar­nat­ed into our the­ol­o­gy are cov­etous goals under the guise of the promis­es of God. Mis­ery aris­es not only when peo­ple lack pro­vi­sion but also when they try to make their entire lives out of provisions. 

Chris­t­ian sim­plic­i­ty does not yield to sim­plis­tic answers. It is the abil­i­ty to be sin­gle-heart­ed and at the same time sen­si­tive to the tough, com­plex issues of life. It is a strange com­bi­na­tion and quite dif­fi­cult to explain, though quite easy to rec­og­nize. There is focus with­out dog­ma­tism, obe­di­ence with­out over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tion, depth with­out pride. It means being aware of many com­plex issues while hav­ing only one issue at the cen­ter — obe­di­ence to Christ. 

Chris­t­ian sim­plic­i­ty is not just a fad­dish attempt to respond to the chaot­ic and mate­ri­al­ist world in which we find our­selves; it is a call giv­en to every Chris­t­ian in every age to fol­low Christ. 

Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in True Wealth Mag­a­zine (2005) as The Para­dox of Chris­t­ian Simplicity.’

Text First Published December 2004

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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