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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Divine foolishness

Christ crucified is God’s clearest and most complete act of love

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).

Uh oh.

Paul wrote this to the Corinthians who were going astray. They were quite smitten with the elegant formulas of the Greek philosophers. The wisdom of the wise was a good thing. Foolishness, on the other hand, was considered a moral defect. They had become boastful, and Paul had to remind them that not many of them were wise or powerful or noble according to the standards of the world. 

The Corinthians had begun to believe that their own effort and understanding was the basis of their life and faith. It’s clear they had not read Martin Luther’s explanation of the third article of the Apostles’ Creed.

Their cultural context is not so different from our own. We value knowledge and power and privilege. And while it might have been true that not many in the Corinthian church were “wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth” (verse 26) we are now. We can’t claim to be the 99 percent. We are the 1 percent. So what does that mean for the church today?

I remember the moment in a lecture hall in divinity school when I came to the abrupt and shocking realization that theology was not rocket science. This was quite disappointing because I was in a university full of actual rocket scientists. How could I hope to be taken seriously by other disciplines in the university — by the law school, the medical school, the business school — when what I was studying was the life and times of a Galilean preacher? I longed for a lab coat, a briefcase, even a calculator — anything that would demonstrate that my discipline was just as sophisticated, and therefore valuable, as any other. 

I wonder, sometimes, if the church is a little embarrassed by the foolishness of the cross. The foolishness is not just that the brutal and humiliating crucifixion of Jesus is actually the way God’s love was manifested, but that God’s love is so complete. This is the overwhelming simplicity of God. God loves us completely. There is no way or any need to dress that up. It just is.

A contemporary Christian mystic said, “The relationship with God is so simple and deep and true and the church just wants to glitz it up.” Because this simple, deep, true relationship does not rise to the level of a complicated, technical, theoretical system.


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