A paradox is a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true. Paradoxes are often contrary to what is commonly believed and helps us to understand about truths on everyday life.
The God of wisdom gives wisdom to help us in the challenges of life. King Solomon asked for wisdom to rule God’s people rightly. What is true wisdom? How does the world define wisdom? How is biblical wisdom defined? What is foolishness in God’s eyes? A Biblical passage that deals on God’s paradoxical views of wisdom and foolishness is found in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31:
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.
26 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. 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.
Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthian church because they were quarrelling among themselves about who belonged to whom. There were factions and group dissensions as to who converted or baptised them e.g. Paul, Apollos or Peter (vv.10-16). The Corinthian church was gifted (v.7), in Paul’s words they were not lacking in any gift (talent or skill). Paul exhorted them to be at peace with one another. It is not important who baptised them because “Christ did not send me to baptise, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.” (v.17) This is the background of Paul’s message on the paradoxical views of wisdom and foolishness, strength and weakness in God’s eyes.
The Corinthians were blessed with many gifts and talents. As a result, there is a tendency to take pride in their gifts. Paul wanted to teach them the kingdom view on wisdom and foolishness. God’s standard of wisdom and strength is unlike that of the world. The world’s wisdom boasts of the external, the superficial and visible things that can be touched, seen, heard and tasted with the physical senses. These are temporal things of money, fame and achievements that keep changing and are quickly lost and forgotten. God’s wisdom boasts of the eternal values that cannot be destroyed.
Paul ended the passage: Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
What does it mean to boast in the Lord? Where was it written “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord?” Paul was quoting from Jeremiah 9:23-24:
Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord.
We are not to brag of the wisdom, power and wealth that we have, instead we need to take pride that we have ‘the understanding to know’ God. What do we know about God? What kind of God is He? That He is the Lord who is kind, just and righteous and that He ‘exercises’ kindness, justice and righteousness on earth. We are to boast that we know who our God is, that He delights in kindness, justice and righteousness. And we are to delight ourselves in the Lord and He will give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4). Finding delight in the Lord is liking the things that He likes. What are these? He delights in being kind, being just and being righteous. Being kind to the needy, upholding justice for the wronged and obtaining righteousness for the oppressed – in these let one boasts in the Lord!
How are we to have the understanding to know God’s kindness, justice and righteousness? We gain understanding when we experience and remember God’s kindness to us. Have you experienced God’s kindness in your life? Were there times of grace and mercy in the past when God provided and protected you in the dark tunnel of suffering? How has God’s goodness and justice work out in the circumstances of your life?
I remember His warm embrace when I was journeying with cancer. I deeply experienced the joy of His presence and peace as I went through surgery and radiation treatments. I will not forget how God saved me from being an orphan on the first day of my life. He kept my mom from bleeding to death when she gave birth to me. God accompanied me through deep dark tunnel of depression – a period when I could not even cry for the sadness that was in my heart. I came out of the tunnel only by His goodness to me. He walked beside me when my parents died within months of each other. He healed my anxious heart when my mom passed away. I did not know how to grieve and take care of my 92 year old father who got sick after mom died. I had a bad fall and broke my ankle. I was in the wheelchair when my father was gravely ill. How can I forget the days when I accompanied my father for his dialysis in the hospital. We were a convoy of two wheelchairs – he in his reclining wheelchair and me in mine. I thank God for our caregivers and our drivers who took care of us on this journey of health challenges. Through the valley of the shadow of death, God’s grace and mercy healed my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual pain and suffering.
The paradox of God is that we boast of our weakness because through our weakness, we learn how strong our God is. We boast of our needy selves because in God we find our richness: the abundant life of peace, joy and comfort that overcome the troubles of the world. This fullness of life is not of material wealth unlike the standard of the world.. these material things do not last – they rust and fade, they get stolen and depreciate, they are lost and forgotten. We boast in our encounter and understanding of our God. In our foolishness, God is our wisdom. He gives us understanding to know Him, to experience his kindness, his justice and his goodness amidst the evils and sufferings of this world.
God is calling to you, dear friend. Do you know the kind, fair and good God of the universe? The God who takes delight in kindness, justice and righteousness of the world?
Now is the time to know God – read the Bible and find out for yourself the eternal things to boast of.