1 Corinthians 1:18-25
April 14, 2017
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will invalidate the understanding of the intelligent.” Where is the philosopher? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of what we preach. Since the Jews ask for signs, and the Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, He is a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks. But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is 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.
In the name of + Jesus.
In Aristotle’s book on Metaphysics, the philosopher could arrive at the concept of God as a first mover or initial cause simply by observing nature and contemplating how things work. He needed no special revelation, no Bible, only his own mind and the world around him. Thirteen hundred years later a Benedictine monk by the name of Anselm introduced an argument that says because we can conceive of a an all-powerful, eternal being, then such an all-powerful, eternal being must exist. To put this another way, even an atheist, by definition, must have an all-powerful, eternal God in which he doesn’t believe, and thereby concedes the existence of such a being.
So, everyone has a theology, whether they want to admit it or not. Everyone talks God-talk. And anyone who’s ever contemplated God or talked about God will one day take up thinking of God in a way similar to Aristotle or Anselm. God as the first cause or ultimate being.
The only problem is that such approaches to God can really only succeed in showing that God exists, but not much more. Who is this first cause? Is the ultimate being really concerned about us? And the problem only intensifies with the introduction of evil. If God is good, then the existence of evil is a contradiction—how can a good God cause evil? The other option is even worse—that God is not actually good. The new atheists justify their atheism this way—they conceive of God as capricious, mischievous, getting His kicks from watching us puny creatures suffer. They think of God as having a character more like Loki than Yahweh. And so they feel it’s easier to believe in no God at all than to submit to a God who allows evil to happen.
In answer to the problem of evil, theologians come up with theodicies. A theodicy is an attempt to justify God. In the face of a tragic evil, we say something like, “It’s all part of God’s plan.” It’s simply an attempt to explain evil and maintain God’s goodness. Professional theologians only offer more complicated versions of this. But if God is the One who must be justified, then He is not just, and He cannot be the justifier. A theodicy implies that Paul was mistaken when He wrote that God justifies.
A philosophical approach to God will end in destruction, because it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will invalidate the understanding of the intelligent.” The destruction of the wise and confounding of the intelligent is because both are attempts to hold God captive in our minds. Despite Anselm inferring an ultimate being from the concept of an ultimate being, it still subjects God to our thinking. Despite Aristotle arriving at a first cause from observing nature, it still subjects God to our philosophy. To try to hold God captive by intelligence or philosophy is to make Him less than God. It only perpetuates the condition of the first sin—the temptation to be like God and know good and evil.
To approach God from this direction is to approach Him in His hiddenness. It’s to demand answers to questions He has not answered. If you pry into the hiddenness of God and try to find out who He is, or to discover a justification for His actions, you won’t like what you find. The Greeks seek wisdom, the Jews ask for a sign (that is, for power), but both of them alike look for God where He does not reveal Himself. And both alike will either find a god of their own imagination, or the true God who is angry and full of wrath.
If we are to talk God-talk, what words shall we use? Almighty, eternal, omniscient—these all begin to speak of God, but they still speak of God on our terms. If we are to speak of God, we must speak on His terms. We must understand His power not according to human power. We must understand His wisdom in a way that is completely unlike our wisdom. Philosophies, treatises, and debates are useful in other walks of life, but to arrive at theology they are all quite useless, because God reveals Himself in foolish way. The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God. The cross is foolishness, yet it is this very word of the cross that makes a theologian. The cross alone is our theology.
The cross of Jesus Christ is the only way by which we can approach God and find out who He is and what He thinks about us. It’s the only path to find Him to be merciful and gracious and just. It’s the path that eliminates every theodicy and speculation. The cross defines what the wisdom and power of God are.
Who is God? He is the One who became flesh, who bore the whips and rods, who had thorns pressed into His scalp. He is the One who endured a day’s worth of shame and agony, from the false accusations to the increasingly shallow breaths as He suffocated under His own weight on the cross. He did this out of His great love, because He could not bear to see you suffer this punishment. He willingly accepted it as His own. He is the God who would die for you.
The wrath of God is on full display as Christ hangs on the cross, but it is not directed outwardly. Jesus says of His torturers, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The Man who is hung up on the tree drinks that cup of wrath to the dregs. And because of this, the cross shows us the God who is merciful and gracious and just. Jesus bears the just punishments for our sin, and so God has mercy on the sinner for His Son’s sake. And as He cries out His last words, He graciously gives up His Spirit and His lifeblood for the life of the world.
If you approach God by way of the cross, all theodicies come to an end. The direction of justification cannot be from us to God, because it is precisely at the cross where God justifies the entire world in His Son. When evil happens—from the most tragic suffering to the smallest, inconvenient annoyance—we can say firmly that evil was not part of God’s plan; evil was introduced by us enemies of God. But the God who reveals Himself most clearly in the cross and suffering at the hands of evil men, and who accomplishes the world’s greatest good through it, will also work all things together for good for those whom He has called and incorporated into the righteousness that is in Christ.
The cross alone is our theology, because the cross gives us the words to talk God-talk. We preach Christ crucified, He is a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks. But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is 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.
What does it mean to call God wise? It means that He does something we consider foolish: He humbles Himself in the flesh to the point of death on the cross. What does it mean for God to be strong? It means for Him to make Himself weak.
In the Heidelburg Disputation of 1518, Martin Luther wrote, “That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened (Rom. 1:20; cf. 1 Cor 1:21-25). He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.” The cross alone is our theology; the cross alone is our God-talk. Tonight, see God revealed in the cross, and become a theologian all over again.
A Theologian Is One Who Comprehends God through Suffering and the Cross
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard