by Randy Timmerman
“Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age?”
As a current Divinity School student, these questions seem to jump off the page and reach through time to convict me. Am I not in a position where I am trying to accumulate as much wisdom, knowledge, and philosophy as I can so that, when I graduate, I can answer Douglas Adams’ timeless question “What is the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything?”
But here, in the opening chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul gives a description of God’s knowledge and power that turns the very ideas on their heads.
Jesus came to deliver both Jew and Gentile. Both groups thought they knew what that meant. Jews knew that, through miraculous signs, the ultimate good was to conquer Rome and restore Israel to its former glory. Gentiles knew that, through profound philosophy and wisdom, the ultimate good was to provide enlightenment so as to understand all the complexities of life. Yet Jesus did not live up to either of these expectations.
Instead, Jesus gave us the cross.
Jesus gave up providing us with signs, miracles, wisdom, and understanding so that he could be beaten, bruised, humiliated, and slaughtered – all for the deliverance and good of humanity.
This is what Paul calls a “stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”.
‘We don’t expect a God who is supposedly all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present…to die! That’s ridiculous! What a stupid God.’
But it is precisely that mentality that Paul warns us about in verse 18: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Only those who align themselves with the powers of Death see the sacrifice of Jesus as foolish. Those who truly see Jesus’ sacrifice as the most perfect display of God’s power over death are the ones who are saved.
In this, we see one of the many paradoxes of God: strength in weakness. How can this be? Paul explains: “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
Thus, the paradox of God makes us have to revisit the way we think about God:
What we perceive as the foolishness of God is the greatest source of wisdom.
What we perceive as the weakness of God is the greatest source of strength.
What we perceive as the death of God is the greatest source of Life.
During this season of Lent, a time of self-reflection and repentance leading toward the cross on Calvary, where Jesus turned the world’s image of “power” on its head, may we be strengthened in the assurance that through our sharing in Christ’s death, in the midst of our foolishness, we have Christ’s wisdom; in the midst of our weakness, we have Christ’s strength; in the midst of our death, we have Life with Christ.
Randy Timmerman is a candidate for ministry on the elder track and is a student at The Divinity School at Duke University.