When Paul preached to the Corinthians he told us that he did so, “not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:4-5). There is human wisdom, of course, but it pales in significance to the mystery of God’s wisdom, which has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ and has been passed down to us through the Church.
What is the wisdom of this age? In this present era of growing secularism and atheism, the wisdom of the world makes the bold claim for absolute autonomy from both Creator and creature, and many have come to believe that they live and are saved by their own resources. But Paul speaks to the Corinthians of another wisdom, a paradox, that is, the wisdom of the Cross. The former “wisdom” is and always has been an illusion. The latter is true wisdom. No human wisdom has ever been capable of saving the world from the reality of human sinfulness. Only the “wisdom of the Cross” has done that.
Paul is aware, too, that understanding this wisdom of the Cross requires maturity of faith, that is, an ability to discern the difference between “the wisdom of this age, or of the rulers of this age who are passing away” [and] God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory and which none of the rulers of this age knew for, if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (vs. 6-9).
The “rulers of the age” that Paul speaks of are the Romans and the Jews of his time. Paul tells us that they rejected the wisdom that existed in God from before time and creation even though it was being revealed to them in their presence, in the flesh, in Jesus Christ. The wisdom that Jesus so graciously revealed, did not fit into their own worldly interpretations, their own earthbound, materialistic desires. Their pride in their own capacities made them blind and deaf to the wisdom that Jesus spoke into their ears and lived out before their very eyes. Because of their immaturity of faith, they saw nothing of their own sinfulness, only that of others. They turned their immaturity into blame and fear and hatred for the Word, the Wisdom of God.
And as Ecclesiastes 1:9 revealed so long ago, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Today’s “rulers of the age” both in the ever-expanding secularist and atheist realms and, sadly, even within the divided realm of Christianity remain just as blind and deaf to the wisdom of God as those of Jesus’ time. But those who are mature in faith, those who have developed the habits of prayer and who are aware of their own sinfulness and their absolute need for God’s grace, do not follow the wisdom of “rulers of the world” or the “Ruler” of the world who was conquered by Jesus on the Cross. These can say with Paul, “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Cor. 2: 12).
In this increasingly secular and atheistic age, this age of “nothingness,” it is ever more important for Christians to be able to discern the difference between the “wisdom” of the world and that of God. It is eternally important, not just of our souls, but also for our more effective evangelization and participation in the work of Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world today, by our words and our deeds that are rooted in faith and that are nurtured by the wisdom of God.