Balance vs. Tension

Balance. Maintaining a number of relationships, keeping up with school work, and fulfilling other responsibilities all require balance. Balance seems to be a healthy and good thing, even a necessary one. But is balance really a biblical concept?

Balance requires a giving up. If I am to balance my life that means determining my priorities and making decisions based on them. If I want to hang out with friends then that means taking time away from studying. In a mindset oriented towards balance, one area is given up for the other, even while we seek to maintain the two areas as evenly as possible.

Balance is a great thing when it comes to tasks, but when we find a balance-oriented mindset seeping into our spirituality, we have a serious problem.  Balance demands that I recognize that I might have to love my neighbor and let the love of the enemy go. Balance demands that I seek to understand God’s mercy and justice separately, each holding a certain weight. Balance tears me in two different directions, forcing me ultimately off-balance.

Tension is different than balance. Where balance tears us in two directions, tension is the act of pulling together. When I live in tension, I recognize the fullness of the call to love my neighbor in conjunction with the fullness of the call to love my enemy. I struggle, but I hold both in my hand at the same time.

Theologically, tension is vital as well. God is indivisible; in other words, there really isn’t a “just side” and a “merciful side” to God. He is God. When we seek to understand God by seeing one side “balances” the other, we run the risk of dividing him. But when we seek to understand God as a tension (the only way we can), we recognize his majesty and how far he is above us.

Balance certainly has its value, but I think tension has greater payoff for the spiritual life. Of course, seeking balance is always the easier course. To claim one area or character or action over another in an attempt to balance is a natural move. Tension is not easy, and recognizing the insolvability of many tensions only makes them harder to swallow.

But Jesus is himself the biggest tension – the Godman who commands us to both love our neighbor and love our enemy. He commands us to pursue justice and recognize that vengeance is the Lord’s. These are not easy tensions to keep, but it’s part of what makes following Jesus so interesting and, ultimately, beautiful.

Let’s recognize the value of balance when it fits. But let’s live life in the tensions.

One thought on “Balance vs. Tension

  1. Provocative thoughts. Thanks. Might it be that our pursuit of either balance or tension reflects our misguided efforts to control life in some way? As servants of Christ, would our commitment to faith and obedience always look nicely balanced or tensioned to others? Just wondering.

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