- Paul of Tarsus
The Message that points to Christ on the Cross seems like sheer silliness to those hellbent on destruction, but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. It’s written, I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head, I’ll expose so-called experts as crackpots. So where can you find someone truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age? Hasn’t God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense? Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered dumb--preaching, of all things!—to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation. While Jews clamor for miraculous demonstrations and Greeks go in for philosophical wisdom, we go right on proclaiming Christ, the Crucified. Jews treat this like an anti-miracle—and Greeks pass it off as absurd. But to us who are personally called by God himself—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one. Human wisdom is so tinny, so impotent, next to the seeming absurdity of God. Human strength can’t begin to compete with God’s “weakness.”
- 1 Corinthians 1.18-25
Let’s get one thing straight from the get-go. In this passage Paul is neither vilifying Jews & Greeks, nor writing off spiritual signs and reason altogether. Paul was himself a proud Jew, steeped in its traditions and rituals; and he had one first rate Hellenistic education. So if you read this passage as anti-Semitic or as anti-intellectual toward faith, think again.
Paul is, however, critical of certain notions of signs and reason that he thought led to a spiritual dead end. For example, if you seek divine fireworks, a spectacular occurrence so compelling it takes away the need for faith… forget it, Paul says. Faith is the lived experience of following Jesus, and will more likely lead to unspectacular service to others than to divine fireworks.
Again, If you seek a sure knowledge and understanding of God in order to package & contain God, and tie up all the loose ends… forget it, Paul says. He would agree with Thomas Aquinas that reason can lead all the way to a knowledge about God, to the conviction that God exists, but there it reaches its limits, and fails to comprehend God as vulnerable and loving; so loving, in fact, that God is willing to go to any length to put the world right again, as John’s Jesus says in chapter 3. At a certain level, this characterization of God seems quite absurd, but in the proper context it leads to comfort, courage, and joy.
So let’s not give up on signs, they may very well play a role in the spiritual life; and for Pete’s sake let’s not give up on reason in favor of an unthinking faith that is gullible to so many shallow, lowest common denominator answers to life’s questions. Rather, let’s gather on Sunday and reflect on how we may with integrity incorporate both into our spiritual life.