Have you ever reached a point in your life, when, everything that you thought was true and ‘right’ about the world, was indeed exactly the opposite of what you knew to be true? It’s a humbling feeling to have a life-long held value shattered by another’s wisdom.
The Bible is full of such wisdom, and by the word ‘wisdom’, I don’t necessary mean the wisdom books of the Old Testament like Proverbs and Psalms.
By wisdom, I mean instruction for daily living. It can be difficult to define wisdom, but people generally recognize it when they encounter it. Psychologists might tell us that wisdom involves an integration of knowledge, experience, and understanding that incorporates open-mindedness for the uncertainties of life. There’s an awareness of how things will play out over time, and it confers a sense of balance.
But I wonder if that is how people of faith understand ‘wisdom’ especially as we encounter the Word of God from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.
If you read the Bible and you’re not gaining in wisdom and understanding of God, I would begin to wonder about your approach to scripture. When we read the Word of God, we expect the Holy Spirit to show-up and illustrate something fresh that we hadn’t already known about God; which is to say, to learn something about our own self in relation to God.
Paul says that God’s acting through the cross of Christ isn’t found in worldly wisdom. God bypassed the sages and scribes, the philosophers and debaters with all their learned debates and learnings. What we are talking about here is a mystery. God is both revealed in the cross of Jesus, but God is also hidden. It’s a paradox where both things are true. So, Paul goes on to say the Jews see only a sign of weakness in the cross… They want power like what they saw in the exodus from Egypt, or the crossing of the Red Sea. Might signs of Yahweh that liberated the people. But that’s not the power of the cross, where the power is in the weakness (yet another paradox, both weakness and God’s power are true).
And the ‘Greeks’ (the rest of humanity from a Jewish point of view) are seeking a message and a teaching that makes sense; a message that is logical and rational. For the ‘Greeks’ to take a man who was crucified as a foundation for one’s life seemed to them to be simply irrational. It cut against the grain of ‘knowledge’.
Yet, Paul’s argument is that Christ crucified is the power of God and God’s ‘wisdom.’ Could it be, per Paul, the real problem with those who don’t understand his message of the cross and the foolishness of worldly wisdom is that we need a new way of seeing things. Such that, it becomes totally necessary to cleanse our lens of seeing the world. And reexamine how we understand the way of the world through the cross of Christ.
Lutheran Christians make that claim that as one reads the Word of God, one should do so through the lens of the Cross of Christ. And that through the Gospel, we see the world has God intend the world to be. Through the Holy Spirit, our lens of seeing is cleansed and we are given ‘ideal’ eyes by which to see the real nature of reality.
The more I write about this, the more Paul’s message of the cross makes sense. When we lead our life with judgement and blame, we can’t see the world correctly. When we lead with fear, we can’t see correctly. When we lead with shame, we can’t see correctly. When we leave with domination and might, we can’t see correctly. That doesn’t necessarily mean that later there isn’t a point of caution or even judgment, but to see clearly means that we can’t lead our life with them. If we lead with a concocted or calculating mind, we will never get the chance to love and experience true love. We’ll simply cut down and close too quickly; our heart is unable to remain open and we simply will not have a clean lens in which to see God. It has John of the Cross has said, “God refuses to be known except by love.”
It’s such a sad reality that the state of our culture and the deconstruction of our society is such a cynical response to the reality of what’s happening all around us. As a people, we’ve become cynical about ourselves, our world, and our future. For so many people life is lived devoid of meaning, purpose, or even direction. And increasingly the case becomes that we are only aware of what is not and can we rarely enjoy what already is. Do you hear the two ways of seeing in that statement? What isn’t and what is… It’s a lens of seeing.
I think what Paul is getting at in this text is that the message of the cross leads a disciple of Christ to be enthusiastic about what is, and not to be angry about what isn’t.
So, our first job as disciple of Christ must always be about seeing correctly who we are, and then to act on it. Don’t live in a false reality of who you’ve been created to be, BE YOU! Live a true life, not a false-self. Don’t believe for a second that living into your true-self is an easy thing to do. Some people wrestle with their true-self every day and are never fully aware of who the Creator has created them to be. It takes immense courage and humility to see ourselves correctly, and perhaps the most courageous thing we can do with our life is to accept with humbleness the mystery of our own reality.
Do you see the message of the cross in that? Living in a way in which God wants me to live vs. how I want to live or what I want to get out of life. They can very likely be two very different ways of living.
And this way of seeing is exactly what Jesus taught in the beatitudes. Wisdom of the world is simply flipped upside down. God’s way of seeing isn’t our way of seeing through the teaching of Jesus in which the ‘poor in spirit’ receive the kingdom of heaven, and those who ‘mourn’ are comforted. Jesus’ message is not one of despair and gloom, but rather, ‘rejoice and be glad’. Be glad when you are persecuted for righteousness sake and hurl all kinds of profanities because of our faith in Christ. It’s not what we want to hear from Jesus, but that’s God’s wisdom.
Could it be that the message of the cross is that in seeing through a clear lens while gazing at the Cross of Christ, God is to be found in all things, even and especially through those moments that are most tragic, sinful, and especially painful. Moments when we feel the absence of love are the moments when God is most close. Like the moment of the crucifixion in which Jesus is at the same moment the most sorrowful and worst thing that could happen, yet it is also the best thing in human history.
And in the end, the paradox of faith always must be some form of crucifixion. We can’t hold two equally true things together that are complete opposite of one enough. Our minds are too limited. Heck, consider Jesus crucifixion as the gospels tell the story – Jesus was crucified between two criminals one was a good thief and the other was bad. Here Jesus hung somewhere between heaven and earth, between God’s shalom and the destruction of earth. And through the cross, Paul tells us in Ephesians that Jesus “reconciled all things to himself.” (Eph 2:10).
Through the ‘foolishness’ of the cross, a mystery in which true life is found in a journey of death and where rebirth happens when we discover who God is we can let go of our need to be in control of what comes next.
What I mean to say is that there is great meaning in the mystical words of our communion liturgy “Christ has died. Christ is risen. And Christ will come again.” At the end of our life, that is all we need to know.