A Belly Flop into The Foolishness of God
"For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men."
Jews seek SIGNS.
Greeks seek WISDOM.
Have you ever thought about why Paul is breaking it down like this?
By these two categories, Paul is naming the extremes of nearly 2500 years of formal Western philosophy.
1. The Greeks were RATIONALISTS. They used logic to validate what was true. For example:
All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Therefore Socrates is mortal.
See how that syllogism takes a mathematical approach to proving something? It can primarily be worked out in the mind.
2, The Jews (on the other hand) tended to be PRE-EMPIRICISTS. They wanted to be able to see, touch, and taste their proofs.
(BTW: This method would take off in the Western world 1700 years later through David Hume. This is actually our default in American culture today.)
If you remember studying the scientific method in high school, that’s empiricism. Example:
"When I pour Pepsi on the plant, it dies. I saw it happen. Therefore Pepsi kills plants."
By the time Paul got on the scene, Greek culture and values were starting to blend with Roman culture, which meant that many of the non-Jews Paul encountered would have trusted a linear, logical, RATIONALISTIC approach to finding out truth.
Many of the Jews Paul encountered were more EMPIRICAL. They felt like seeing was believing, so they wanted signs from God to validate what he was asking them to believe.
Paul sizes up both of these demands and says, “Hey, I know you two groups want A or B, but God has chosen to give you C.” And Paul’s actually a bit of a renegade in how he tells them he’s not going to scratch their itch.
He doesn’t offer these people truth according to their standards. He steps out of that ring and says, “I get why you want what you want. You think you know what proves truth. But you’re going to have to be willing to reevaluate your standards, if you are ever going to find real truth at all.”
As someone who teaches philosophy, I find Paul’s audacity amazing. He was way ahead of his time. After thousands of years of secular study, moderns have actually proven what Paul is saying here. Both rationalism and empiricism have now been invalidated as watertight methods of validation. We still use both methods, of course, but we use them knowing that they are rickety and unstable.
So I feel goosebumps rise when I see Paul’s boldness and then watch him quote the living God:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Yes. That has happened already. And it is still happening.
What's left then? For years, we have been told that if we will just study such-and-such Christian training program, we will be able to defend our faith to the world. And there's definitely a value in academic training. But training in empirical or rational proofs of the faith that isn't first grounded in reliance upon the living God is pointless, because this battle we are fighting isn't just intellectual.
Beneath proofs, beneath reason, each person has a core desire for either God or autonomy. No intellectual argument will ever persuade someone who has chosen to rule himself. This sort of work will require the engagement of God Himself. You can't do it no matter how smart you are. No matter how persuasive you are. It's work that's bigger than your ability.
If you are willing to take a minute to read I Corinthians 1: 18-31, I think you will see how this passage opens wide once you understand these two extremes and then begin to consider what they represent.
Also, notice the role God’s living presence is supposed to take in spreading the gospel. As you read, think about how you have been trained to share the gospel.
1. Have you been trained more like a Greek or more like a Jew? Have you been told that if you have enough historical or rational proofs, you will be able to convince people to love Jesus with you? What does this say about the trust center of modern Christianity? Where does Paul say our trust should reside?
2. From what Paul teaches, is evangelism supposed to focus primarily on academic arguments?
3. Why would Paul (a profoundly educated, academic man) be so defiant and forceful about siding with Divine foolishness? What is foolishness to him?
4. Why would Paul be so brazen in his stance, declaring Jesus a stumbling block to people who want signs (empiricists) and foolishness to people who want proofs (rationalists)?
5. If you move on into the first paragraph of I Corinthians 2, Paul confesses that his rhetorical skills were not so great when he taught the gospel to the Corinthians:
“And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”
What is the “so that” mentioned here? Does this "so that" make you feel vulnerable? If so, why? Does this change how you might engage with non-believers online or in conversation?
What would change if you and I began to trust in the living power of God instead of simply in our own wisdom as believers? What might shift if we treated study as a tool that God could use, but let the core of our faith rely upon a Living Being more powerful than all our arguments?
What would it look like to repent from depending on ourselves and our intellect a little too much? What might need to change from this point onward? Are we willing to take a belly flop into the earth-shattering, animate, pumping, hovering, tingling, omnipresent foolishness of God?