“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?” (1 Corinthians 1:20, NRSV)
Paul's words to the Corinthians about the wisdom of the world reminded me of God's response to Job when he was trying to make sense of his suffering:
"Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: 'Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?'" (Job 38:1-5, NRSV)
When it comes to the things of God, there are some things, no matter how much we want to make sense of them, that are beyond our comprehension. Just as Job's friends wanted to convince Job that his suffering was due to some sin in his life (to which God cried, "Nonsense!"), Paul challenges the emerging idea among Corinth's spiritually elite that God's grace comes with all kinds of contingencies. Paul's argument against this is to point to the cross on which Jesus died. Richard Hays says,
"The Fundamental theological point is that if the cross itself is God's saving event, all human standards of evaluation are overturned. This outlandish message confounds Jews and Greeks alike, who quite understandably seek evidence of a more credible sort, either empirical demonstrations of power ('signs') or rationally persuasive argumentation ('wisdom'). But the apostle offers neither. Instead, 'we proclaim Christ crucified' (v. 23)." (Interpretation: First Corinthians, p. 30)
At the heart of this argument is the need for a specific and clear understanding of God's grace. Grace IS grace! Wisdom wants to qualify this grace by attaching requirements for receiving it. The only condition John Wesley put on God's grace is that once God offers it, we activate it by accepting it. Any condition beyond that robs God's grace of its essence. Anything short of that one condition sends God's grace into universalism and denies the importance of human agency in a co-equal relationship. Still, Paul asserts God accomplished our salvation through Jesus' death on the cross. Any further qualification, no matter how well thought out, or even well-argued, diminishes the gift of God's grace that was realized and finalized through that selfless act.
Is Paul's message any less radical in our culture of transactional relationships than it was in Corinth? We'll continue to explore Paul's argument in worship this week, and I hope to see you there!