The Power of God; The Wisdom of God

Ground Hog’s Day is the very depth of winter.  It is half way between the winter solstice, where we’ve place Christmas and the vernal equinox when we celebrate Easter.  It’s become nearly impossible for some of us to think about Ground Hog Day without connecting it to the voices of Sonny and Cher singing the last stanza of “I’ve Got You Babe” followed by a radio announcer at precisely 6:00 a.m. saying “It’s cold out there.” 

The movie is about Phil Connors, a Pittsburgh TV weatherman. For the fourth year in a row he’s having to cover the annual Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney.  So beneath his dignity is this assignment that he flaunts his distaste for the story and wants to escape this ‘hick town’ as soon as possible. But a blizzard thwarts his plans, shutting down the highway.  He and his crew have no choice but to spend the night and that’s when his real nightmare begins.

At precisely 6:00 in the morning he is awakened by the clock radio only to have to re-live Groundhog Day and this happens over and over again.  Each day he would see the same people doing the same things at the exact same moment.  At first it was a novelty that he exploits to its fullest. He comes to realize that he is doomed to spend the rest of eternity locked in this seemingly hopeless cycle.

Finally he chooses to take advantage of his situation.  It is only after his heart changes and he matures from evaluating everything based on its usefulness to himself and chooses to give his heart to another that the cycle is broken.

This I found fascinating. The movie, which broke into our consciousness in 1993, has been the basis of innumerable messages, sermons and homilies by Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and even leaders of twelve step programs each holding it up as a clear reflection their own views on the meaning of life and salvation.   What is so important in this movie that it has become such an icon is that it demonstrates the need to see what living in the world is all about.  The experience changes a hopeless, manipulative cynic into human being able to give himself away in love.

The Apostle Paul begins his letter to the Corinthians by telling them that though torn apart by partisan quarrels and divisions there was not one essential gift they lacked to be the church in the world.  But what they had missed was the fact that they we relying on worldly wisdom.  But of course, why wouldn’t they?  It’s like an accountant who had spent years working in the for profit world and then trying to understand the values, goals and standards of a not for profit organization. 

1 Corinthians 1:18-30

18For 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. 19For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20Where 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? 21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.26Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

 

In the first chapter of 1st Corinthians Paul confronts two things: the adulation of knowledge and its fancy forms, and the obsession with power. This attack of Paul’s is not on the value of being wise; he is, in fact, appealing to a new profound wisdom. His attack is on the abuse of knowledge and its forms as power. When knowing more is a way of winning it is abusive. Such ‘wisdom’ must be subverted. To Paul, God has always sought to undo such pretensions. So we have the words, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” And then they and us are forced to face the bloodied figure on the cross.  A mutilated human body impaled on the arms of a Roman cross to normal human sensibilities is a repulsive sight. But, of course, we’ve gotten used to it.  We’ve dressed it up.  We’ve coated it in gold, made it ‘nice’, turned it into jewelry.

Paul points out that ‘the Jews’ were looking for signs, especially miracles as proofs of God’s support. They will be winners because God, the winner, the magician is on their side. Paul is not against miracles and would have been had far less difficulty with the notion of miracle than most of us today. But he refused to make such miracles the foundation for his theology, which would be to make a power-model the framework for this thinking about God. Against this he sets the powerlessness of the cross.

He says “the Greeks’, that is the sophisticated and proud, are looking for wisdom, probably impressive displays of knowledge. Against those who made the sensational central, or who made knowledge power central Paul affirms the contradiction of the cross.  Power matters, as does wisdom. But for Paul it is the power and wisdom evident in the cross. Real greatness is the life poured out in love. That is also the heart of the real God. God’s kind of foolishness is wiser and God’s kind of powerlessness more powerful than these other schemes. Paul later bolsters his argument by noting that the people who have really grasped this are more often the simple people,  people without great claims to wisdom and lacking the skills of the great orators. Such people expose the emptiness of those who climb the rankings of power in the usual ways.

Out of character with both the secular and religious standards of his day, Paul’s preaching raises up a suffering Jesus, who embodies a new kind of wisdom, a contradictory wisdom and a new kind of power, which is love broken and poured out for all. He not only proclaims this Jesus he also understands his own life in its terms. He is not bent on making a slick impression or astounding people with feats, or offering other worldly promises, but simply on embodying this kind of love. Like the cross and Jesus himself, Paul too, becomes an embarrassment, because he falls so far short of what others apparently consider success. Paul sees all this not as a matter of technique or style, but of theology. That is, he sees it as a matter of understanding the way God is. God’s way of being and doing confronts the pretensions of human expectations  of greatness, wisdom and success.

With this, Paul is addressing those of the Meeting of Followers of the Way in Corinth who have so obviously gotten it wrong.  Not that it has ever been easy to get it right. Our preferred theological constructs and our considered positions on issues of the day seem not to be cruciform but rather elevations of the high and mighty, partly because we are bent on giving and receiving honors and rewards according to the value system which ultimately crucified Jesus.

Christ embodies for us the true reality of God and in him we find that God is way ahead of our manipulations and strategies of self promotion. In Christ God declares that we already have the wisdom that matters before God; we don’t need to impress. We already have standing before God through grace; there is no additional righteousness to be attained. We already have an invitation to share God’s holiness; we don’t need priestly manipulations to become holy. We already have liberation; it is there for us in God’s generous love waiting to help us be transformed. So Christ is our wisdom and righteousness and holiness and liberation. The crucified Jesus is also our model and our mentor for living life as God intended.

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