A God of wisdom and power

15 Aug

When you take notice of what is going on around you, in politics,
economics, ecology, and in the ways people relate to each other and
exploit each other—what choice is there, everybody’s doing it? —and all
that, it is so easy to give up. Just give up.
Most of us give up, by simply keeping to ourselves, looking after our own, and hoping to survive.
It is so much easier, it seems. But to do all this is to lose hope. And in fact we cannot live without hope.
I am so glad that again I came across these thoughts about how God is
involved in this crazy world we call ‘ours’—and how God works with
wisdom and power. This is my hope!

I am thinking about the words of the Apostle Paul, in I Corinthians 1. 18 – 25. You can read this text here.
‘We preach Christ crucified’: this stress may very well seem like
foolishness, but Paul invites us to see that this gospel is in fact
about a God of wisdom and power, expressed to us in the astonishing
death and resurrection of Jesus.
Paul is saying, I think, that to all people this message is an affront.
It is hard to take in. Who would expect that a God would come to us, to
reveal love and grace, by dying on the rubbish dump outside the walls
of an ancient city, with only a few women taking notice and a Roman
soldier to recognize what was really going on?  This truly is an
offence to the mind, a stumbling-block to the spirit. Yet the text
asserts that for those who do receive him, whether they are ‘Jews or
Greeks’, Christ  is the power of God and the wisdom of God’ (v.24).
Here surely is a great offence to us and our world: a man crucified, so
long ago and in such despicable conditions is ‘the power of God’.
Our world has perfected the ways of exercising power.

Power means the ability to make a difference, the ability to get things done. To have power, in whatever we do, means to be effective. A leader with power is one who can really get people to follow and do what the leader calls for.
In our society the tools of power are offered to us, always at a price. If you want to make a difference you need money  and with enough money you can make almost anything happen. Or if you don’t have that much money you need muscle: and with brute force, with military might, you can make a big difference. That’s what many ‘Third World’ countries are trying to do, to get power. And the third factor in our world that offers great power is the media: it offers the power of information, shaping the minds and the wants of people.
The message of the Gospel uses none of these things; from a human point of view there is no power here. ‘We preach Christ crucified’; but what difference is that going to make? There is no money in that! A man dying on a tree is hardly a picture of muscular strength.  And the cross of Jesus is not a great media event. As a communications exercise it wasn’t what we might call a big success. In the cross of Jesus, the power of God meets none of these popular ideas and methods of gaining power.
    The power of God can only be understood through the other expression Paul uses: the wisdom of God. God does not want people to do the right thing because they have no choice. God invites people into lives of love and freedom and mutual service.  For this reason, to make a difference in the world, God has chosen a different way. In the foolishness of the Cross, God invites us and woos us into the freedom of God’s way. This is the wisdom  of God.
The wisdom of God knows what to do with immense power.
    What would you do if you suddenly won or were given a hundred million dollars? What would you do if you didn’t have to work, you could buy anything you liked and do anything you liked? In a way, you would have great power; but would you know what to do with  it?  For a while it would be fun, but after that … ?
    Power without wisdom is a recipe for great destruction.
Just at the time when Nelson Mandela was about to be elected in South Africa’s first multi-racial elections, he took part in a debate with Frederick de Klerk (the former president of the apartheid regime). At a most poignant moment towards the end of that debate, Mandela reached out to his opponent and clasped his hand. This is the man whose party’s emblem is a clenched fist. Mandela made a difference because he opened his fist to his enemy, saying that  together they could make a new future.
    What would you do if you had in your hands the power of God to ‘save’ the world? This was the temptation presented to Jesus.  He chose the pathway of obedience to God’s way, even to the point of death on a cross. The pathway he chose was not one of manipulation and domination. Rather, he worked to invite everyone into a community of mutual responsibility and freedom, in and with God. Jesus’ astonishing strength through humility and service uniquely combined the power of God and the wisdom of God.
    The God of wisdom demonstrates the power of suffering, forgiving, inviting love. The God of wisdom and power repudiates the use of might to promote injustice and manipulate people.  In this great reversal, the God of wisdom and power lifts up the broken and suffers with the outcast. In this weakness, in this ‘foolishness’, God makes a difference.
    This is the way God saves the world. God saves us from the false solutions that only lead to more destruction. God demonstrates another way.
    From the outstretched arms of the crucified Jesus  flows the power and wisdom of God to transform the world.

One thought on “A God of wisdom and power

  1. Love it, Frank.
    To me, this is why so much of the triumphalism in our churches misses the point. The point isn’t that Jesus submitted to earthly authority in order to achieve a desired end (namely dying as a penal substitution for our sin), but precisely because by submitting to that earthly, coercive authority or power, he unmasked it as a fraud, as ultimately a pathetic shadow of God’s power of suffering, self-giving servanthood, a power which is not power over, but power under. A fairly unsexy message really, (maybe even “foolishness” as Paul says ;)) but the only message that brings hope for us all in times when might supposedly makes right…

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