In the movie Becoming Jane, the character of Jane Austen offers a wonderful definition of irony: “…the bringing together of two contradictory truths, but always done with a smile”. As an author, Austen is most praised for her astute observations and understanding of human character. The ability to understand the complexity of human nature must take irony into account. It is an incontestable component of life. We all have some experience with navigating its paradoxes. Those of us who find happiness have learned to do it with a smile.
This definition of irony calls to mind many things for me, but foremost among them is Christianity. We are saved sinners; we’ve been made right with God, but live out our sanctification; God’s power is made perfect in our weakness (II Corinthians 12:9); we walk in faith, and yet by sight. The season of Advent is described as “the already, and the not yet”. Jesus, our Messiah, lived a life where He was fully human, yet fully divine. The apostle Paul described the irony of the Christian life in his second letter to the young Corinthian church: “…we are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed, perplexed, but don’t despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed….having nothing, and yet, possessing everything” (II Corinthians 4:8-10). Paul cuts to the core of the irony of Christianity in that same letter: “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God, and not from us….Therefore we do not lose heart: Though outwards we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (II Corinthians 4:7, 16). The irony of Christianity is a God who continually offers Himself to fill the needs of humanity, through broken humanity itself.