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. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 1 Corinthians 1:18-19
If everything Christians claim is true, then what God has been doing to redeem creation is very big. Working through history, through people and nations and events and the miraculous, God moved diligently towards the day when Jesus would be born, grow up, teach/minister, be killed and return to life. We can’t even conceive of what it took, let alone the depth of love behind it all. It’s vitally important to God, and such a one-of-a-kind event that Jesus himself talked in terms eternal life being found only in him. I know that scares some of us who don’t want Christianity to be too exclusive; it’s a difficult position in our culture. We don’t like to claim a monopoly on the path to God. Our dilemma is that Jesus’ words and deeds, given any weight and/or taken for true, lead us down the road to some sort of exclusivity.
Even the fact that God became a single person, with an explicit worldview, personality, and ethical code, means that the choice to follow or not to follow is mutually exclusive. And Jesus didn’t just have any old nebulous idea of God, but one that was very specific, grounded in historical Judaism but also attesting to a living heart behind the faith guided by God’s Spirit. He had very specific teaching. It leaves us little room for drastically different ideas of God/faith. People ask me things like, “How can we be Christian without stepping on the toes of and/or discounting the faith of other groups?” Again, the fear of devaluing other people’s heart-felt faith. I usually ask, “How can we honor every single faith system without discounting the very particular and powerful mission of Christ Jesus on earth, and what God did to come here in person, live, die, and rise to life again?”
Back to the beginning of the post, think about everything God did in the incarnation/resurrection, if we buy into it all even for just a second. Let it sink in some. For all of that, how does it make God feel when we look at Jesus and say, “Thanks for that idea, God, but I’ve heard of some alternatives – there are other names for you and languages people use about you, and I’d rather find you one of those ways.” It is no simple thing. I understand faith as a personal choice not to be infringed upon; but I also understand how very personal it is to God.
All of that connects to 1 Corinthians 1 for me because it describes the mixed reception that humankind has to the Christian redemption story. This faith isn’t going to be understood by all. It isn’t going to be liked by all. It isn’t going to be the preferred system of worship by all. Even if it’s perfectly true and the only deep path to know God, there is no guarantee that God’s labor to redeem creation will be rewarded with universal devotion. 1 Corinthians 1 is a stark reminder that in the midst of everything God does, God preserves what we were given in the beginning — the freedom to choose for ourselves. With that freedom comes wisdom, or false wisdom. We can discover the truth and love God reveals, or we can settle for self-centeredness. We can humble ourselves to the King of the universe, who calls us freely into his service, or we can run after our own phantom kingdoms for a short while on earth. Because we are imbued with free will, we can choose the grace of God and be transformed, or we can choose death without even knowing it. We can choose death and be convinced, and try to convince others, that it is life.
But, God says here, all will be proved soon enough. Wisdom/foolishness will be laid bare, and our choices will be evident. That does not make these verses a license for us to run around in self-righteousness, exalting our own Christian wisdom and deriding anyone who disagrees as a fool. We’re not commissioned to point at people and call them ignorant or heathen or hand out the labels for those we deem the “perishing.” This passage is making clear that every human heart is a battleground, and two mutually-exclusive paths are before us. And many of us know what it is to dabble with both sides of it. So let it motivate us just THANK GOD for God’s saving power, and workings to redeem us, and by all means avoid being puffed up in thinking ourselves wise; and then let us live that same grace towards those who seem to be perishing, remembering how we felt when we were on the same road, half-dead and looking for life. Today, embrace how ridiculous our faith actually sounds: that God intends to set all wrongs right by becoming a man who would ransom everything; that in order to accomplish it, a Roman cross put this son of God to death, only for him to walk living out of a Roman tomb three days later; that the very best way for this truth to be made known today is through those who believe it to be true, and are empowered by forgiveness and the very Spirit of God. That is the power of God.