COLUMN: Where are the wise?

Published 9:15 pm Sunday, March 10, 2024

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As I have acknowledged here before, we are living in what feels like the most divided era of my life, especially politically. This troubles me. I marvel each day at the cultural, ideological and political polarizations and at how the people I love can square off so quickly and be ugly to each other. 

It troubles me that these things seem important enough to destroy relationships.  

I am a working minister in a purple church. We have both red and blue partisan folks in good numbers. Which means I have taken an oath not to discuss partisan politics with church folks. Also, to minister just as lavishly and with just as much faithfulness to all those on one side of the aisle as I do the other.  

That is still my stance to this day and will be until I retire. Political and ideological fundamentalism is at work so that factions, even within the partisan culture, are sometimes slicing narrower and narrower the concept of who’s in– who belongs versus who’s out– and who needs to be eliminated (not just defeated) within their own side of things.  

So how do they feel about those whose allegiance is with the political ideology on the other side of the figurative aisle?  Well, they are looked at today as mentally deficient. They are looked at as immature or naive. They are viewed as selfish and as a problem.  

The apostle Paul wrote to a mixed, diverse audience, too. In 1 Corinthians 1: 18-25, he tried to help those who were used to relying on their conventional systems see faith in a different way. 

For Paul’s Jewish audience, they had relied on the cognitive experience of keeping the Law.  Each action, seemingly every step and interaction, could be measured against the written standard of the Law.  “Measured” was in many ways, a key concept here where legalism so abounded.  

For Paul’s Greek audience, intellectual prowess and the ability to argue a point was the standard of power and rightness.  So, in some ways there were two approaches to life and faith that could at any moment set one up to rely on smarts and any other material resources that could be garnered.  

He says that while the church at Corinth is busy choosing sides by those standards, the gospel of God in Jesus Christ marches on by a different beat. It all causes Paul to ask, “Where is the wise person?”

God established another new Covenant through Jesus Christ. He was God come near. Immanuel: God with us. In other words, God has come to show us how to live healthfully with each other.  

Among other things, he was bent on showing us how to coexist within Creation without tearing everything and everybody up. Best I can tell, that’s who Jesus Christ was sent to be. Of course, we did what we do. It didn’t take long for folks to square off about Him, too. 

Try as we may, we won’t get everyone to react to the things of God just alike. “For 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.” 

I can’t be surprised that folks who did believe in Jesus Christ eventually divided and chose up theological differences.  Theology is complicated. We like to try to simplify it. We’ll say things like, “Believe and receive.” We’ll tell people that God meets you where you are. Or, we’ll recommend that they trust and let God. 

These things we say because they’re true on some level.  Also, because we want to be more inviting or come off as accessible.  But then your particular issue comes up and suddenly, it’s just not that simple. My crisis comes along, and faith fails me if I’ve only encountered it on an intellectual level.  

Paul had diversity to navigate as we tune in for this little stretch of 1 Corinthians. And, he was reflecting on the “new” covenant in Christ here.  He knew that there were a wide variety of reactions to it then. Just like today.  

But here is where I place my trust. What may seem light and foolish to our highly opinionated and hyper-informed culture or what seems superstitious to our scientific-minded friends may look useless for a time. But what may seem imperfect to folks who have seen the Church at her worst moments is actually the sovereignty of God operating on a level beyond whatever you believe possible.

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.