Dispatch Thirty-One

Posted: December 28, 2013 in Eighth Bundle
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1 CORINTHIANS 1:18-31

18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards,not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

The complex systems of philosophy that religion constructs in its pursuit of a comprehensive worldview have often wandered into the fabulous and bazaar. Mythical beings, metaphysical dimensions, and elaborate theories of immortality of the transmigration of the soul can strain the limits of logic and common sense.

But then again, that shouldn’t surprise us. The primary language of religion is more imaginative than intellectual. There is nothing inherently wrong with such musings, and the exquisite world pictures described in the religions are successful for many in getting them connected to a universe of higher meaning.

What Paul observed, however, is the way that all this “wisdom” can so fascinate and occupy us that we float off the earth and away from the real situations of life. So what if there are seven realms of angels surrounding the throne of God, or infinite Buddha-fields in the dimensionless expanse of nirvana – how does that help me “work out my salvation” (a phrase of Paul’s) in the face of today’s challenges.

Yes, it is helpful to know that I’m not alone in this sometimes crazy world, and that a greater wisdom is available to me if only I can transfer the focus of my awareness to a point beyond the urgencies of this moment. But how do I find my way back? And how can all of this help me become more authentic, more present to my life?

The “way back” for Paul was represented in the cross of Christ, the image of Jesus dying for the sake of his gospel.

                                                                                  

Now, lest we think that Paul had a morbid obsession with torture and death, we must proceed into his theory of the cross with patience and care. To start with, it is imperative to know that, for Paul, the cross of Christ did not stand in utter isolation as the vertical axis around which world salvation turned.

He understood it, as it must be understood, in the light of Jesus’ message and life. Without that context the cross can easily take on an almost magical power, or else get appropriated into a theory that completely contradicts the spirit and teaching of Jesus’ gospel.

The cross as a talisman for warding off evil is a popular superstition still today, and atonement theories that interpret the crucifixion as serving to placate God’s anger and pay sin’s penalty are also prevalent among the mainline traditions of Christian orthodoxy. In each case, the way to understanding the cross of Christ as “the power and wisdom of God” is abandoned for something far less demanding.

The great revelation that came through Jesus had to do with the superiority of love in its aspect of compassion. Compassion is not love from a distance, or love in the abstract, or love on principle. It is love that “suffers with” another under the conditions of pain, brokenness, or bereavement. Jesus revealed the heart of God to be compassion, which to him meant that God is fully present with us in our struggle.

The “power and wisdom” of God’s compassion hang on the cross in the midst of our world.

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