Every time we read the holy Scriptures we are confronted with the difference between divine and human wisdom. This passage is no exception.
Every time we read the holy Scriptures we are confronted with the difference between divine and human wisdom. This passage is no exception. Paul is confronting the inaccuracies of human ʺwisdomʺ here and does so with the historical and theological reality of the Cross as it was seen by the people of his time and is still seen by those who call themselves wise in the ways of the world in our own day.
ʺBrothers and sisters: Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the Gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.
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. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside.’
Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Gentiles alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.ʺ (1 Cor. 1: 17-25)
The cross, which Paul associates here with the wisdom of God, was a stumbling block for the Jews who could not conceive of the Lord of Hosts, the Almighty, letting go of all of that to enter the world in the form of a human, who would allow himself to suffer and, of all things, die on a cross, a sign of ignominy in those days. This idea was ‘foolish’ to the Greeks who put all of their faith in human wisdom. God dying? On a cross? Such things do not make sense in the realm of human ‘wisdom.’ But human reason has its limits. Dante understood and wrote about this in his Divine Comedy. His character, Virgil, who allegorically represented human reason, could lead the pilgrim Dante through Hell, which was the allegorical representation of the struggle of human reason to recognize sin and its consequences. But, in order travel beyond this into the realms of Purgatory and then Paradise, human reason needed to be aided by Divine Love and the Divine light of faith.
Human reason is a God-created thing, and as such, it is very powerful. But, if you want an example of the frailty of human reason within the context of human history, you need look no further than the French Revolution. The originally democratic revolution of 1789 descended very quickly in September of 1793 into what would become known to history as the Reign of Terror, which would go on until July of 1794 with incredible and unreasonable blood-thirstiness. The period that gave rise to the American and French Revolutions was known as the Age of Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason. But the Reign of Terror proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that human reason was unable to prevent the barbarous acts, that arose without constraint, from the dark well and will of human passions.
Human reason is not divine. But human reason can be enlightened by divine grace through the gift of faith. It is true, we are not able to explain the Incarnation, the death of the Son of God on the cross, or the Resurrection in scientific terms, but God is beyond science, for it is God who created all that is seen and all this is as yet unseen. In our day, science and its sister, technology, have claimed to be the sole arbiters of wisdom and the understanding of reality to themselves. Those who believe in human wisdom alone today, who have replaced God with science and technology, are confined to the limits of the material world, therefore, they will not accept as true, or real, anything that can not be proven by the scientific method. They believe that if it cannot be proven by this method, it can not be real. According to this belief system, if it is not provable in the scientific, material sense, then it must be, at best, the foolishness of some outdated mythology.
For those of us who have been graced with the light of Christian faith, we know that ʺChrist is the power of God and the wisdom of God.ʺ And we know that ʺthe foolishness of God is wiser than human reason, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.ʺ We are happy to be fools for Christ. (1 Cor. 4: 10) In our foolishness we have come to live in Christ’s name. We understand that forgiveness is stronger than the human wisdom of revenge, and that love is wiser than hate. This we know through the divine generosity of grace. We believe because God is, indeed, great; greater than human wisdom can know on its own. Thanks be to God.
Lord grace us with the humility to know that it is only in you that our salvation is possible. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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