The God of Fools
February 02, 2020*
By Pastor John Partridge
Micah 6:1-8 Matthew 5:1-12 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Do you believe in Global Warming?
I’m not looking to start an argument, but this is a common sort of discussion going on in our culture that can help us to understand a biblical principle, as well as one of the more difficult teachings of the Apostle Paul.
Let me explain. If a person is unconvinced that Global Warming, or Global Climate Change, or at least Anthropogenic Global Warming (which is the belief that not only is the climate changing, but that human activity is primarily at fault) then that unconvinced person looks at all the hysteria and handwringing by those who are convinced, and he (or she) believes that they are all fools. Conversely, those who have been convinced that these ideas are true, believes that anyone who remains unconvinced, or skeptical, is a “climate denier” or, in other words, a fool.
It is this modern blindness to the opinion of others that helps us to understand that same principle applied in the world of theology. But, before we get to that, let’s begin by looking at a lawsuit brought by God, against the people of God who claim to be his worshippers and followers. We find this language of lawsuits, witnesses, and courtrooms in Micah 6:1-8, where we hear these words:
6:1 Listen to what the Lord says:
“Stand up, plead my case before the mountains; let the hills hear what you have to say.
2 “Hear, you mountains, the Lord’s accusation; listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth.
For the Lord has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge against Israel.
3 “My people, what have I done to you?
How have I burdened you? Answer me.
4 I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery.
I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.
5 My people, remember what Balak king of Moab plotted and what Balaam son of Beor answered.
Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.”
6 With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Using legal language that would have been familiar to the people of the ancient world, God declares that he is taking them to court to lodge charges against them. In that accusation, God presents examples and evidence of his faithfulness to his people and in doing so, suggests that he is charging them with unfaithfulness. But, if God believes that his people are disobedient and unfaithful, even when they appear to be following the laws of Moses, bringing sacrifices, and worshipping in the Temple in Jerusalem, then what is it that God wants from them? In fact, Micah, speaking for God, asks that question three times saying, “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?” and then later asking, “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?” and finally wondering, “Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
But in the end, the answer is simple. Micah says, God “has shown you what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Although the people of Israel were going through the motions of worship, and although from outward appearances they seemed to keep the commands of God, they had forgotten the underlying principles of justice, mercy, and humility and those were the things that God really wanted from them, and what he had modelled for them, in the first place.
And, seven hundred or so years later, when Jesus stands up to preach a sermon that we now remember as the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12, we hear that same message of justice, mercy, and humility.
5:1 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Here, we run into the same problem that the people of the Old Testament had. While the principle that we heard in Micah, “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” sounds entirely reasonable, the application, as described by Jesus, is a lot more difficult. If Jesus is to be believed, and since we are his followers and name ourselves after him, we certainly should, then we really need to wrestle with some of this teaching.
Blessed are those who mourn, sounds wonderful, but from there on, they get harder. In the world in which Jesus lived, and in ours twenty centuries later, the meek don’t typically inherit anything. The humble and the meek usually get run over by the bold selfish narcissists. In the business world, the people who hunger and thirst for righteousness seem to get trampled by the people who hunger and thirst for money, pleasure, and power. While our culture gives lip service to mercy, we can rarely find it in politics or commerce, and acts of mercy get handed off to institutions of charity and religion. And, while peacemakers can occasionally get some good press, it is the warmongers who are more commonly found in the halls of government, wield all the influence, and make all the money. And by golly, you would be hard pressed to find anyone at all who would welcome persecution, insults, or false accusations, let alone rejoice in them.
In the end, what Jesus is preaching, and what God wants from us, is to live a life that is entirely contradictory to conventional worldly wisdom. And that, leads us to what Paul is trying to communicate as he writes to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, where he says:
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
26Brothers 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. 27 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. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 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. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
In an age of enlightenment and widespread higher education, and in a world where people of faith are regularly accused of being “anti-science” or even “anti-education,” passages like this can be frustratingly difficult to understand. What are we supposed to think when we hear phrases like “the message of the cross is foolishness” and “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate”? Are we supposed to understand that God really wants his followers to be foolish and stupid?
Of course not.
Remember that scripture has an entire genre that we refer to as the Wisdom books. Five books of the Old Testament, including Psalms and Proverbs, and two books of the Apocrypha are all parts of the wisdom literature that was handed down to us by the people of Israel. The writer of Psalms declares that wisdom was present with God at the creation of the universe, and Matthew declares that the wisdom of Jesus was greater than the wisdom of Solomon. So clearly, God does not intend for his followers to be stupid. Instead, in the passage that we just read, the point that Paul is trying to make can seen more clearly where he said, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” Let me repeat that. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” God is so smart, that even if God were to have a “senior moment” or “brain freeze,” or some other moment of stupidity, God’s version of stupid is still smarter than any human intelligence and God’s weakness is still stronger than any human strength.
But, with that in mind, if we understand that God is smart, and that God wants us to be smart, and we understand that God is wise, and wants us to be wise, then how are we to make sense of phrases like “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise” and, “the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate”?
We make sense of it all by remembering that what Jesus preached on the Mount of Beatitudes. What God wants from us, is a wisdom that is often contradictory to conventional worldly wisdom. If we live the way that God wants us to live, our lives will often be lived in ways that are contradictory to conventional worldly wisdom. That doesn’t mean that education is bad, or that Christians are “anti-science,” or that God prefers uneducated rubes as his followers.
We begin to see God’s meaning as we walk through the Beatitudes. It means that we set aside our inborn selfishness enough to care about the poor and to comfort those who mourn. It means that we are called to remember mercy when the rest of the world is demanding blood and violence. It means that we find value in, and expend our efforts toward, seeking purity and virtue instead of the pleasures and vices that the world believes to be normal. It means that, wherever possible, whether we are on the playground, the battleground, or the corporate boardroom, we seek peace instead of conflict even when peace might come at some personal price to us in dollars, time, or popularity. And it means that we understand that if we live the way that Jesus has called us to live, that we will often be unpopular, insulted, persecuted, have false rumors, gossip, and other accusations brought against us but we also remember that God’s prophets were always treated this way, and so was Jesus.
In the end, if we truly want to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God, then we must accept that God’s wisdom is not the same as the wisdom of the world, that what God wants is not the same as what the world wants, and that what God considers to be good, is not always the same as what the world thinks is good. If we want to live the way that God wants us to live, we must understand that the world will think of us as foolish and stupid.
I’m okay with that.
And I hope that you are okay with that.
If we are to be fools, may we at least be God’s fools.
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