Spiritual Wisdom and the Foolishness of God

Daily Theology’s previous posts in celebration of Pentecost from Kevin Johnson and Kevin Ahern asked us to encounter the Spirit as a source of both humility and hope.  Inherent in their reflections is the idea that the Spirit provides a new way of conceiving our relationship to both God and the world.

That’s just foolishness.

I’ll try to be just as wise.

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? . . . For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (1 Cor. 3:16-17).

Out of context, this quote tends to be read as referring to our bodies, more particularly our “individual” bodies and the importance of respecting them as God’s creation.  That is a worthy message, though perhaps not the one Paul intends.  English translations fail to convey that Paul is not referring to individual temples of the Holy Spirit, as if each Christian were a separate structure set aside for God’s presence.  Rather, Paul’s “you” is plural:  the Christian community at Corinth is together God’s temple and the Spirit’s dwelling place.

The indwelling of the Spirit is marked by a communal transformation on two levels.  First is the transformation from division to union founded in the oneness of God:  the Spirit who is the bond of love within the Trinity acts as the bond of love between persons; the Spirit who searches the depths of God becomes the one mind of the Christian community; the Spirit who brings about the incarnation of Christ makes the church Christ’s body within and for the world.

Second is the transformation from the wisdom of the world to sharing in God’s foolishness, God’s way of loving the world into salvation (1 Cor. 1:18-31).  According to the wisdom of the world (i.e., human reason unaided by the Spirit) salvation in Christ crucified is literally incredible.  Human reason looks to its own devices for salvation, not to a broken body on the cross or a corpse in a tomb.  Human reason finds its hope in Polonius’ advice:  “to thine own self be true.”

Crucifixion by He Qui

Yet God’s foolishness brings life from death through the power of the Spirit.  This is the spiritual wisdom that animates the Christian community, allowing the church to rejoice at participation in Christ’s resurrection (Romans 8:11).  It is God’s foolishness that says “to find your life you must lose it.” (Mt.16: 24-26).  It is God’s foolishness that loves us, names us friends, and surrenders life in the face of our rejection (Jn 3:16; 15:13).  It is God’s foolishness that demands mercy, love of neighbor and enemy, and care for the most vulnerable (Lk. 10: 25-37; Mt. 5: 43-48; Mt. 25: 31-46).

Why?  Our own ability to love is wrought and wooed by mysterious acts of love transcending human calculus (1 Cor. 2: 4-5).

If through the Spirit we share the wisdom of God, then empowered by the Spirit we must share in God’s foolishness as well.  What appears hopelessly naïve to the Poloniuses of the world is precisely the foundation of Christian hope:  Christ suffering on the cross, dead in a tomb, and resurrected on the third day.  The same hope is continually incarnated through the spiritual wisdom of Christian communities who go to the world with love, who lay down their lives for their friends, who forgive their enemies, who act with mercy towards the vulnerable, who lose their lives in order to find them, who are God’s temple and the Spirit’s dwelling place.