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Sunday, December 03, 2006
The Wisdom of Man
I heard a statement this morning: God's ways are not the same as man's ways. God uses the simple things in order to shame the wisdom of man.

It is actually quite consistent with what I grew up believing. But...I wonder...

Is is possible that God uses the simple things in order to include everyone--from the wisest to the very least? Is it possible that it is because of the benevolence of God that the kingdom is offered to anyone, no matter how limited a person's understanding might be?

After all, isn't the very wisdom that is supposedly being shamed ultimately coming from the source of all wisdom? Aren't we all about the labeling and the excluding? Could it be that God's inclusion of all be so humbling as to bring the wisest of men and women to their knees? Isn't the simple still complicated enough for the very wise to grapple with, yet understandable to the weakest of all?

Just wondering...


posted by sylvia skinner at 10:21 AM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 12/03/2006 03:06:00 PM, Blogger Nancy

    Sylvia: I put my hope in this. It reflects a God that I feel I have come to know, a God who would reach out and touch a "leper" like me.

  • At 12/03/2006 06:54:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    This is a great topic. I recall much earlier in my journey, once I was asked to provide a sermon in the pastor's absence and I gleefully noted how Solomon's life took a turn towards the idols - and he was supposedly the wisest person who would ever live! So I had this understanding of minimizing just how ignorant we really are in comparison to what "Godly" wisdom has to offer. The problem was, I took this to an extreme and so I began to doubt most of my own thoughts, perceptions, and feelings because I assumed that since my wisdom was so utterly microscopic compared to the Lord's, it must pretty much always be wrong. I'm very thankful that now God has helped me be in a place where I can keep the idea of my own frailties and limitations but be confident about those things that seem to have clarity, and that I know I can pray for greater resolution when it's borderline.

  • At 12/03/2006 07:28:00 PM, Blogger Past the Wishing

    To your 1st Q: - yes
    To your 2nd Q: - yes
    To your 3rd Q: - yes
    To your 4th Q: - yes
    To your 5th Q: - yes
    To your 6th Q: - yes

    Yes ... all VERY possible!
    Nice rhetorical theology! :-)

  • At 12/03/2006 08:14:00 PM, Blogger Psalmist

    As you can guess from my nickname, I am a singer. Years ago, when I was finishing up my bachelor's degree, I studied Bernstein's MASS in order to perform "Simple Song" on my senior recital. I fell in love with the text. Here's how it begins:

    Sing God a simple song,
    Lauda, laude.
    Make it up as you go along,
    Lauda, laude.

    Sing like you like to sing;
    God loves all simple things,
    For God is the simplest of all.

    I think of this sometimes when working with the volunteer musicians of my church. None of them, even the celebrated soloists, could ever have made a career out of music. I've sung in some awfully good choirs and sometimes the musician in me misses that level of skill in a group. But honestly, I'd never want to trade my musically "simpler" folks for more accomplished musicians, at least not if it meant that I'd no longer have a group who know that it is God in their midst who makes their singing truly beautiful.

    I also observe the children a lot. We are so fond, as adults, of making "grown-up" requirements that exclude children from faith experiences. (I won't elaborate, because I know that our various understandings of certain faith experiences can give rise to strong feelings and quick judgments.) But the moment we require that someone "understand" something such as baptism, the Trinity, atonement, Communion, resurrection, and so many others, we make the mistake of thinking we humans can actually understand them fully. We can't. It's by grace alone that God helps even the wisest among us understand in part. It also sets us up to judge those who understand differently than we do, as though ours is the only correct belief a faithful Christian can possibly hold.

    I keep thinking we're all tiny children, playing in life's sandbox. We can no more understand fully Who and What God is, than we can save ourselves from sin. We can, however, be grateful for the glimpses and hints we comprehend sometimes, and keep on seeking God.

    IMO, it's not our understanding that God desires, it is our active faith. Though we should of course seek to grow in knowledge, that shouldn't be our primary objective. As we grow closer to God, God will grant us more and more knowledge, according to God's priorities and our willingness to learn. Wisdom, unlike knowledge, is content for there to be mystery and "unknowable" areas of our faith. Knowledge often puts our own intellect on the throne. Wisdom, by contrast, constantly acknowledges its Source and recognizes that the throne belongs to God alone.

    Yes, I absolutely think God uses simplicity for the purpose of including us all in the Kingdom. I think we thwart this purpose at every turn through our idolatry of our own limited understanding. (Generic "we" here; some individuals and churches do far better than others about this.)

  • At 12/04/2006 06:52:00 AM, Blogger Nancy

    Psalmist: I read some of what you wrote aloud to my husband this morning (your differentiation between wisdom and knowledge). How wonderfully written!

  • At 12/04/2006 07:46:00 AM, Blogger Michele L

    I love all of the thoughts.
    Psalmist, I like the way you expressed your thoughts.
    I for one lean on the idea of "faith like a child". Even though I have grown a lot this year, and consider myself intelligent, I encounter daily, what seems to be way out of my reach. I try to read all the time and challenge myself, but that can get overwhelming. Many times I have thought that God couldn't have wanted it the way it seems sometimes, ie, that the wisest are the closest to God. The life of Christ certainly seems to reflect the opposite. Many times Christian debates seem to look a lot like what the Pharisee's debates were. I agree that many times the more "wisdom" we accumulate the less we might lean on God.

  • At 12/04/2006 08:20:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    So many great thoughts and reflections. I ardently believe God doesnt' intend for us to throw our brains, if we have them -- that would be wasting our gifts -- but rather to put our lofty thoughts back into perspective and be held accountable to the ultimate mystery of God. Because if we cannot accept THAT, than all our thoughts will be shamed by the simple faith of one who trusts and love Jesus, without having to comprehend complex theories. If we substitute thought for substance, we lose the most important truth of God. But if we use thought to delve deeper into substance, and then to make it accessible to more people, that is beautiful and will surely bring us closer to God, and continue to ensure that the good news is inclusive to all.

    Also, for those of us to who spend considerable time in the "idea realm," we need to make sure to equally honor with genuine respect, those with earthier, more tangible gifts, as Paul instructed in 1st Corinthians 12-14. In this way we will avoid pride and participate joyfully in the body of Christ.

  • At 12/04/2006 08:43:00 PM, Blogger wilsford

    a complete aside (as seem to be most of my comments on this board)

    when are we going to give up on substituting the word "man" when referring to all of humankind?

  • At 12/05/2006 08:11:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Well if you keep the sexist pronoun in there, what you'll find is that there's no rebuke for following the wisdom of woman :)

  • At 12/05/2006 02:41:00 PM, Anonymous rebecca

    Could it be that the statement you heard was based on 1 Corinthians 1:27 ? If you look at that verse in its context (basically all of 1 Corinthians 1) you can see that Paul is speaking to people who think they are wise, but who really are not.

    There is the true wisdom that comes from God, and then there is what humans perceive as "wisdom" that really is not wisdom.

    In this context, the human "wisdom" that is being questioned is not the kind that God gives us, but rather what people claim is wisdom, but really isn't, in God's eyes. I don't think God is the source of this kind of "wisdom." True wisdom, yes, but what Paul is arguing against here in 1 Corinthians, no.

  • At 12/05/2006 10:07:00 PM, Blogger sylvia skinner

    I guess what I was thinking...and which I did not articulate very well...was that I think it's possible to exclude smart people with such statements.

    My point was that perhaps God's ways are suited for both the wise and the simple. I was trying to get at that when I asked the question: "Are God's ways, though simple, still perplexing enough for the very wise?" (or a variation of that)

    While it is usually the poor and the lowly that are excluded, could it also be true that smart people are aleniated in such statements? Is God really interested in "shaming" the wise--which was the original statement I heard.(?)

    More questions, I guess....

  • At 12/05/2006 10:24:00 PM, Blogger Psalmist

    Hmm...I think it's kind of like an onion. Once you peel off one layer in the quest for understanding, you find there's another layer. Some never get the first layer off. Others uncover more and more, but I don't think we ever get to the core/pure truth of all that God is, in this life. (And at that point, the analogy breaks down completely.)

  • At 12/05/2006 10:27:00 PM, Blogger Psalmist

    Ugh...posted too soon.

    My point was that there is always more to learn in the quest for godly wisdom. I do think that the wiser we become, the more we see our utter inadequacy to comprehend the fullness of God. So even the little children can know and love God, while the sages spend their entire lives "digging deeper" in their quest. God is always sufficient, yet always far more than we are capable of knowing.

  • At 12/06/2006 07:59:00 AM, Anonymous rebecca

    I like this last post by Psalmist. The more you learn about God the more you realize how much you do not know and hopefully the more humble you become.

    To Sylvia I would say that God is not out there trying to make it harder for people with more education or higher IQs---he is not trying to shame the wise in that sense.

    I think it is more in the sense of people who think they know everything, or are very arrogant about their beliefs, or are convinced they are correct about something where God has clearly said otherwise. These would be the "wise in their own eyes," and these would absolutely be the kind of people whose "wisdom" comes to nothing and who God would want to expose as foolishness.

  • At 12/06/2006 08:13:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Yes, I agree that I think the meaning Paul is trying to get across is closer to "God will shame the intellectually/theologically arrogant," as opposed to "God will shame deep thinkers who apply their minds to seeking God," - after all the conviction that we are to love God with heart, mind and strength is a core value for most people of faith, whether they allow for the natural implications of this value or not.

    Rebecca, when you say, "what God has clearly said," what do you mean?

  • At 12/06/2006 08:45:00 AM, Anonymous rebecca

    Well, obvious things would be commands you see from God over and over again in Scripture---to love one's neighbor as yourself, with all the implications and permutations we see in the prophetic books, for example. To honor God and not worship idols. And yes, the ten commandments, among some other things.

    One example. When you get people who, say, cheat on their spouses, reasoning in their own mind that it's OK because "God wants us all to be happy," I'd put that in the "wisdom" category that God would call foolishness and want to shame. I knew a married seminarian who used that line on a married woman and got away with it---she figured, hey, he's in seminary, so he must know more about what God would want than me. And so they had an affair, wreaked havoc on both their families, he lost his youth pastor job, and there were other severe consequences.

    The same could be said about people who turn their backs on the poor, or who live only for themselves, etc. God's said many times throughout Scripture that God doesn't want us to live this way. So when we do, we're choosing our own "wisdom" over God's.

  • At 12/06/2006 10:36:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Rebecca, thanks for clarifying.

    I think what you just described in terms of the cheating scenario falls more under the category of "rationalization" than wisdom. We all sometimes do mental gymnastics to rationalize behavior or beliefs that deep down we know are not right, but I agree, I don't think that's wisdom.

  • At 12/06/2006 12:51:00 PM, Anonymous rebecca

    Jemila's comment here about rationalization has me thinking. Perhaps one of the features of "wisdom" (when I use the quotes around the word here, I am referring to the 1 Corinthians 1 "wisdom" that Paul was not real happy about) is that it contains some measure of rationalization.

    Let's say you don't feel like assisting the poor, despite God's clear command to do so throughout Scripture. One component of how you would get there in your mind would be rationalization of reasons why you weren't going to assist. So: I work hard for my money. They'll just go out and buy drugs. If they'd get off welfare and get a job they wouldn't be poor. People were poor for different reasons back then so the Bible doesn't apply. And so on.

    Now, *you* might think you were being "savvy" (e.g. "wise") by coming up with these rationalizations for why you weren't going to help the poor. But what you think is "wise" actually is not.

    I think rationalization may just be a key component of the "wisdom" that Paul had such problems with, with his people.


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