Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Foolish and Weak Things

God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

                        1 Corinthians 1.27

Ordinary People

Nearly every Bible hero is under-qualified for the job he/she is given. Noah is commissioned to build an ark but can’t persuade any of his neighbors to help with this daunting task. Abraham is called to be the father of God’s people, yet his wife is sterile. God sends Moses to challenge Pharaoh and lead Israel out of bondage; he’s tongue-tied and saddled with a murderous past. Rahab, the prostitute, seems least likely for the pivotal role she plays in Israel’s victory over Jericho; still, God favors her. Though David’s courage as a youth evolves into impetuosity as an adult, he rises to become Israel’s greatest king and poet. Mary—a provincial teenager without family distinction, wealth, and social connections—is deemed most worthy to mother the Christ Child. Peter’s a hot-tempered, uneducated fisherman; Jesus names him the first prelate of the Church. After a life devoted to wiping out Christianity, Paul emerges as its most influential champion of spiritual freedom and inclusion. “Ordinary People,” a 70’s gospel tune, ends with this line: “Little becomes much when you place it in the Master’s hand.” The Bible consistently confirms ordinary people are God’s candidates of choice. Why, then, do so many of us discount our usefulness to Him based on personal insecurities and presumed deficiencies?

Overshadowed by Superiority

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians addresses a small, somewhat shaky band of believers eking out lives of faith in the most cosmopolitan, admired city of the day. While Rome holds status as the Empire’s seat of political and financial power—its New York, perhaps—we might compare Corinth to Paris, a highly admired hub of cultural excellence. Per capita, Corinth’s populace outranks every city as the best educated, most sophisticated, wealthiest people in the Western world. While the complexity of Paul’s letter indicates the Corinthians’ advantages over other burgeoning churches, his opening comments also imply they feel overshadowed by superiority, having few of their city's best and brightest in their number. “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many of you were of noble birth,” Paul observes in 1 Corinthians 1.26. But he immediately arrives at a conclusion that directly subverts the logical point of such an admission. God uses foolish and weak things to shame wise and strong people, Paul says. Deficits are assets in His hands. Our lack of ability, status, and means appeals to Him as much as any talent, position, or resources we possess.

Bizarro Logic

Fans of DC Comics, “Seinfeld,” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” are familiar with “Bizarro World”—a parallel plane where everything and everyone are complete opposites of their counterparts in this plane. The concept exaggerates mirror imaging: left is right, front is back, and so forth. At the risk of sounding facetious, God’s ways and reasons function precisely in the same way. In 1 Corinthians 13.12 we read, “Now we see but a poor reflection in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” In other words, we’re currently stranded in a Bizarro World where everything we perceive as “real” is the opposite of God’s true reality and what we consider naturally logical flows against the current of His mind and methods. Since we can’t ascertain His classic reversals on sight, it’s ours to recognize His intentions and reorient our faith to flow in His direction. God doesn’t prefer foolish and weak things to indulge His whimsy or humiliate wise and strong people, Paul explains. “He chose the lowly things of the 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.” (1 Corinthians 1.28) He calls and enables us for tasks we’re unqualified to handle for three reasons: to retain exclusive glory for our accomplishments, secure our confidence that what we do is only achievable through faith, and eliminate possibilities of anyone better equipped for the job usurping His credit once it’s done.

“It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus,” verse 30 reads. God charges us with responsibilities beyond our wisdom and strength to reinforce reliance on Him. Our pride comes not from what we can do. What we can’t do makes us proud to be chosen. Ephesians 2.8-9 says: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Thinking God needs us because we’re the most capable people He can find is Bizarro logic. God He needs us because we need Him. The instant we resist His Spirit’s call because we’re not wise or strong enough is the moment we understand why we’re chosen. Regarding Ann and Sue, John and Henry as brighter, better candidates confirms why we’re ineffably right for the job. Our inadequacies shame wiser, stronger people because they miss what we grasp. Not having what it takes is what gets the job done.

In our Bizarro World of inverted logic and reversed expectations, God uses foolish and weak things to shame wise, strong people. 

(Tomorrow: Devoted)


Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Tim said...

Thanks, Anon! We learn as we go, I guess. I'm gratified your enjoying the blog and hope it does indeed keep getting better. And I invite you to comment any time--we all have a lot to teach and learn from each other.