The Crucifixion of Strength and Wisdom

Crucifixion, Matthias Grunewald

Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:22-25)

The crucified Messiah is a scandal to Jews and a form of idiocy to Gentiles. By all human viewpoints, such a Savior seems weak and foolish. Yet it is by this very weakness and foolishness that God reveals His strength and wisdom. Indeed, God’s strength and wisdom unveil the weakness and foolishness of supposed human strength and wisdom. The upside-down ways of God in the Messiah apocalyptically show what is truly happening in this world.

Do we turn again to other forms of strength and wisdom than that of God? Having come to God through the One Mediator, Jesus Christ, do we then set aside His apparent weakness for human strength or His apparent foolishness for human wisdom? Do we turn somewhere else and thereby say that Christ is not sufficient? Do we empty the Messiah of His true power by grasping for other types of power—power of influence, power to dominate, power of money, power of achievement, power of sensuality, power of position? By doing so we forsake Christ and our faith! Paul continues:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

So let us know where true strength and wisdom come from and not turn again to what is foolishness.. Let us not boast in ourselves—our power, strength, or wisdom—but let us boast in the Lord and His power. Let us follower where He leads us and not turn aside to that which He has unveiled as empty of strength and empty of wisdom.

One Fear You Don’t Want to Lose: Living with Appropriate Fear of the Lord

cave opening.jpeg

There are things in life that you need a healthy fear of: open flames, dangerous or abusive people, life-threatening diseases, identify theft, riding with your son or daughter behind the wheel when they have just received their temps. No, in all honesty, there are things that we would be foolish not to fear.

But what does it mean when we hear in the book of Proverbs that we are to fear the Lord?

Some people think that we are to wander around afraid of God all of our days. Some might say that we should live joyless, unhappy lives plagued by God’s arbitrary activity in the world – you never know what He might do with sinners like us. There is a sense of terror in some people’s view of God.

But that’s not what fear of the Lord means when we look at it in the Bible. Let’s read the two key verses that phrase appears, Proverbs 1:7 and Proverbs 9:10, which serve as book-ends around the first large section of the book of Proverbs.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7)

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10)

In the Bible, the concept of the fear of the Lord holds in tension that we stand before a powerful God who also wants to relate with us.

We are talking about the God who created everything…who spoke all of creation into being with a word…we are talking about the God who has brought into being more than 20,000 species of fish, some who exist at depths of 3,000 to 6,000 feet…we are talking about the God who has brought more than 250,000 species of plants into being and who actually knows the difference between Poa protensis (bluegrass) and Adansonia digitata (baobab tree)….the God who, it says elsewhere, sustains all things, including not only our solar system but also the 200-400 billion solar systems in the Milky Way Galaxy, and the estimated 100-200 billion galaxies in the known universe.

This is the sort of God we are talking about when we approach the scriptures.

We should be humbled when we approach God. We should realize that we are very small. We should approach God with, as one Old Testament scholar writes, “knee-knocking awe.” God is truly the only awesome one. When we realize who we are dealing with in this way, then we are starting to get at what fear of the Lord means.

But here is the other side of that story. This same awesome God who with a word created such varied beauty and variety in our world and countless wonders throughout the known and unknown universe – this same God actually wants to relate to human beings; no, not just that, this same God wants to relate to you – YOU – and me.

That’s what the Bible tells us. The Bible is the story of God reaching out to human beings, starting with Adam and Eve, and carrying on through characters like Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Jacob, Ruth, Nehemiah, Esther and more. This reaches its pinnacle in the awesome story of God becoming a man – the wonder of incarnation – when Jesus Christ walked our world, died, and rose again. Jesus is the supreme example of God’s outstretched hands to humanity.

That same all-powerful and tremendously creative God who should inspire knee-knocking awe in us, also wants to inspire intimate relationship with us. He wants us to have reverent trust with Him. And when we realize who we are dealing with in this way, then we are starting to get at what fear of the Lord means.

Knee-knocking awe before the only awesome God.

Reverent trust in relationship with a loving God.

True wisdom comes when we have an appropriate fear of the Lord.

Challenges to the Hunger to Know

MarkarianChain_Kaminsky_960.jpg

This past weekend at Eastbrook, I explored the hunger that each of us have to know and be known as part of our Hungry for God sermon series. One aspect of this that I did not really get to explore as much as I had hoped was some of the challenges that we encounter with our hunger to know.

The Challenge of Limitations
One of the challenges about our hunger to know is that we often encounter our limitations with knowledge. Sometimes this appears in relation to scientific realities, such as the reality that there is more unknown ‘dark matter’ in the universe than what we can know, or the unintended consequences of genetic manipulation about mosquitos that scientists are currently wrestling with in their goal of eliminating malaria.  Sometimes our limitations are more basic, such as not being able to know what’s on someone else’s mind – whether a friend, lover, or boss – or our inability to know the future, one of the great anxieties of our lives

The Challenge of the Intrinsic Relationship between Knowledge and Power
Another challenge is the relationship between knowledge and power. There’s an old saying: “knowledge is power.” Knowledge serves not only to enlighten people, but to give certain people power. On the positive side, this is why so much effort has been given to help people learn to read. Literacy helps in the acquisition of knowledge, which is such an empowering breakthrough in life. At the same time, some people hold back knowledge from others as a means of brokering power in a way that keeps some down and props others up. Knowledge is power, but that power can be used dangerously or beneficially.

The Challenge of Neighbors to Knowledge
Another challenge about our hunger to know is the fine distinctions that exist between information, knowledge, belief, and wisdom. I
nformation tells us about things, but knowledge tells us why that information is useful. Belief is different from knowledge but equally important. Belief shapes our approach to the good (or moral) life. Belief is often devalued in comparison with knowledge. Some will say, “If you have to rely on belief, then you are unthinking.” But that is really an unthinking statement, since it derives from a position of belief. Knowledge and belief actually function in different, but overlapping, capacities in our lives. Appropriate knowledge is the basis of right belief. For example, if we know the stakes of winning in gambling are so low, we would do well to believe it and live accordingly. Knowledge and belief work together. Wisdom helps us know how to live well in light of appropriate knowledge and right belief. We ideally gain wisdom over the course of our lives, but not if we reject either knowledge and belief. That’s why we say there are some very smart people who do very stupid things in life. They lack wisdom.

The Challenge of the Eradication of God from Public Knowledge
Another challenge for us in our contemporary world is the tendency to eradicate knowledge of God and His ways from the realm of meaningful, public knowledge. 
Some will say that if you believe in God, then you should automatically not be taken seriously; which is probably one of the most biased, unthinking things one could say. All honest thinkers will at least admit that as much as people may say we cannot prove that God exists – and I think there are some pretty convincing proofs of God’s existence – as much as people may say we cannot prove that God does exist, we also cannot prove that God does not exist. After all, Jesus, even if all His claims about God were set aside, is widely commended for His contributions to humanity, for things such as the golden rule, love for the neighbor, and more. If Jesus and His followers viewed the basis for these contributions as rooted in the knowledge of God, then we certainly must not brush aside knowledge of and belief in God as significant for discussions in our hunger to know. We must allow that knowledge and belief in God be admitted as potentially important within the realm of meaningful, public knowledge, not just private, personal practice.

In the midst of all these challenges with our hunger to know, there is a word from God that we need to hear again today. It is found in Hosea 4:6:

My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children.

The challenges to the hunger to know are significant. Still, knowledge is vitally important. The hunger to know must be filled and satisfied with what can truly fill and satisfy that hunger. 

Hungry to Know

One of my friends in college was always afraid that if she left one of our gatherings something really fun would happen immediately afterwards, leaving her out of the fun. We would joke around with her about it, promising that we wouldn’t do anything really fun until after she left for her apartment. Today, there’s a name for that: “fear of missing out.” The fear of missing out has become seemingly more pervasive since social media enables us to tell everyone everywhere about the amazing food we are eating, the cool people we are spending time with, and the once-in-a-lifetime vacation we are having. Everyone else can peek into it and experience the fear (or reality) of missing out.

In one sense, the fear of missing out reflects the insatiable desire built within humanity to understand what is going on in the world and in our lives. We scramble to be “in the know” or “on the inside track,” and we hate feeling “out of the loop.” In his essay, “The Inner Ring,” C. S. Lewis wrote that this desire: “It is one of the factors which go to make up the world as we know it … Unless you take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life, from the first day on which you enter your profession until the day when you are too old to care.”

This hunger for understanding is built into us by God. We certainly recognize that this hunger to know has led to many important breakthroughs, whether in cancer research, philosophical understanding, or our conception of the physical world. Yet, left to our own devices, this hunger to know often pushes us into a mad scramble to indiscriminately know and be in on everything without stopping to consider what is really worth knowing and why. 

In its best sense, this hunger to know leads us into an encounter with that which is beyond us and, ultimately, God. This week our devotional is built around this theme of the hunger to know. 

Let us begin with some of the greatest prayers on this theme:

“Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths.” (Psalm 25:4)

“Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth” (Psalm 86:11)

“Praise be to you, Lord; teach me your decrees.” (Psalm 119:12)

RESPOND THIS WEEK:
Each week’s practice will feature some aspect of the process Paul describes for us in Ephesians 4:22-24, where we are to TAKE OFF something from our lives that has become corrupted or distracting and PUT ON in its place something God wants us to do.

Take Off:Choose to fast from information in some way this week: reduce your access to the news; reduce how often you check your email or social media; avoid gossip forums or conversations. Think about why we so often desire to “be in the know” when it comes to other people or events.

Put On: Replace the time you use to gather information with practices that will help you hear from God, such as regular Scripture reading, prayer, or sitting in silence before God. Make a commitment to change your habits regarding to how much time you spend taking in “news” about the temporary world and how you will begin to spend some of that time learning about God’s kingdom.

[This a devotional I wrote with Jim Caler as part of the Eastbrook Church Lenten devotional, “Hungry for God.”]

Attention as a Key to Wisdom

Multicultural friends group using smartphone with coffee at university college break - People hands addicted by mobile smart phone - Technology concept with connected trendy millennials - Filter image

The distractions of our lives slowly become the purpose of our lives when inattention and lack of focus reign within our souls.

The more information we have, the less true knowledge we attain. The less knowledge we attain, the more confusing our life experiences become.

Lacking knowledge and meaningful experience in a whirlpool of information, the more improbable becomes the development of wisdom in our lives.

One key toward gaining wisdom in our engagement with the world around us is attention.

Attention involves an extension of the self into the world, so that the world is more powerfully received into the self. It is the essential and necessary means of our growth in knowledge and of any progress that we make on the path toward wisdom. Attention shapes what we know and value, and therefore determines who we are and can become. – Christopher O. Blum and Joshua P. Hochschild,  A Mind at Peace: Reclaiming an Ordered Soul in the Age of Distraction (Manchester, NH: Sophie Institute Press, 2017), 120 [italics mine].

Without attention, we lack the ability to focus in our growth into true knowledge. Without attention, knowledge will not mix with our experience to become wisdom. While not the only key to wisdom, without the ability to attend to people, objects, and experiences around us, we will never move forward in gaining true wisdom.