I have wondered how I would respond to a blog like this a couple of years ago, when I was still a firm believer in Jesus Christ. First off, I would be unlikely to come across it, but I did have my ventures into secular writings. Second, I would have never believed that the writer was once “born again”. But finally, I think I would have read it with a smug smile on my face, shaking my head, because oh my goodness, this is such foolishness! Such “worldly wisdom”! These things can only be understood by real believers!
Why would I have said such an arrogant thing?
In my 30+ Christian years, I have heard this message again and again: the ways of God are not the ways of men. It is a very common theme in preaching, and I don’t mean the old-fashioned “God is so great” or “God will punish you” kind of thing. No, a common theme for example is ‘the Way of the Cross’. It means that God chooses the powerless, the weak and the poor; that God even becomes the weak (in the form of Jesus) and dies shamefully on a cross. While Jesus had all the power to save himself or send legions of angels. No human would think of such a plan, yet God did it His way anyway. “Such wisdom!” I would have said. And indeed, it sounds profound. It shows that Gods ways are not always obvious or (humanly) rational, but they did the job in the end anyway. Plus it speaks to our empathic feelings.
It gets a bit more suspicious though, when logic and faith are discussed explicitly. About a year ago I was in a Christian small group meeting where somebody quoted: “If you can be reasoned into the Kingdom, you could also be reasoned out of the Kingdom”. The group seemed to agree (although inside, I found this quite alarming). It meant that faith was not entirely rational and should not even be approached that way. Logical arguments won’t get you a Christian, was the message. It’s basically an irrational faith and it is mean to be that way. But why?
The idea of an ‘irrational faith’ is not a new postmodern fad. It is in fact very fundamental to Christianity. One of the earliest letters is probably 1 Corinthians, written by the apostle Paul, way before the gospels were written (see http://www.biblestudytools.com/resources/guide-to-bible-study/order-books-new-testament.html). And what do we see in these very early writings?
1 Corinthians 1:18-25 “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. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 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? 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. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
So what do we see here? Right at the start of these letters, we see that Gods wisdom is way better than whatever wisdom the Greeks or the Jews had. Forget Plato. Don’t look at Socrates. Stoics are misguided. No, Jesus is the real deal! Even though the rest of the world does not recognize the wisdom… do not worry, it was meant to be that way!
Paul adds a bit more in chapter 2:
“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.”
So here you have it. Christians have the mind of Christ. They have the Spirit, God himself in them. They alone can understand the things that come from God, while the rest of the world will only think it is foolishness. They can judge things (like this blog) with the ‘mind of Christ’, while my ramblings are just human foolishness. I am just some hopeless joker fool without the Spirit of God.
I am not bashing Christians now. I am not exaggerating here. This is precisely what the Bible says and what I once believed as well: only Christians can have the Truth about spiritual matters. The rest is just misguided. All philosophy of the world… useless! (How often have you heard about Aristotle in a church?)
How Does This Make Sense?
Now let’s start positive here. There is sense in here, especially from an insider perspective.
If there is a God, and that infinitely wise God revealed Himself, surely Gods wisdom would be a bit different from ours? Surely it may not always be ‘our ways’? It kind of makes sense that ‘spiritual’ things don’t entirely make intuitive sense; just like quantum physics don’t make much intuitive sense but are true nonetheless.
Also, the attacks on Christianity that the average Christian encounters are often done on the grassroots level, by people who know very little about the Bible or faith in general. They might involve poor arguments like: “You are such a hypocrite because the Bible says you should not eat pork, yet you eat it”, showing that the accuser knew little about the spiritual truths. Many attacks can be easily answered that way. For me, it always reinforced my ideas about the wisdom of the world vs. the wisdom of God / the Bible.
And of course there is a lot of foolish ‘worldly wisdom’ out there – for example the everlasting pursuit for happiness in the form of a materialistic and hedonistic lifestyle. Buying stuff does not give lasting happiness, and Christianity gives some good counterbalance to such simplistic ways of thinking.
Where It Falls Apart
The logic of having the ‘mind of Christ’ which is far superior to any ‘worldly wisdom’ would only work when God was actually speaking to you. What if a Hindu told you this? Or a Muslim? Or an atheist? “Oh well, you can’t understand this because it is only for the initiated. It is irrational, or super-rational. It does not even NEED to make sense”. You would laugh. And that is good and appropriate laughter.
Also, at the end of the days the reality of the supernatural is just another reality. Although it may not always be intuitive, why would it be true that only a ‘spiritual’ person can understand the non-visible (“spiritual”) things? This saying of Paul only makes sense in the context of an unproven belief system that has a need to make its adherents feel special for not being understood. If the Bible’s wisdom was truly wise, that could also be seen through non-spiritual eyes (what does it even mean anyway?). It is for example absolutely not true that nonbelievers like me don’t understand the blood sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. They just don’t agree it happened, or that it is necessary at all.
Talking about the wisdom of God… it is actually often not so deep at all. Wisdom of slavery. Wisdom of blood sacrifices. Wisdom of women having to keep quiet in church. Wisdom of a scapegoat for your ‘sins’. Wisdom of an eternal torment. It sounds more like the wisdom of the people of that particular time, rather than an eternal and passionate God.
Those parts of the revealed wisdom (the Bible) which are verifiable, need to be sound. Christian faith is not just an abstract philosophy. There should be tangible results to prayer, tangible documents and archaeological proof, etcetera. Unfortunately, they are often missing or point to the opposite. One cannot claim the wisdom of God supersedes cold, hard facts.
Lastly, this super-rational ‘wisdom of God’ is at odds with the brains that God supposedly gave us. If God gave me reasoning, as the Christian worldview claims, then surely we must all be able to see the wisdom of God as it is? Then (virtually) nobody would say it is foolishness? Instead, according to the Bible we will all see it as foolishness unless God himself opens our eyes. To me, this now seems like just a clever way to hide the false nature of the actual beliefs.
What Is The Effect?
So what are the effects of this smug smile on my face that I used to have? What are the effects of seeing things as worldly wisdom versus Gods wisdom?
Well, when a nonbeliever says: “This does not make sense!” it is precisely what lots of Christians expects to hear. The apostle Paul already told them this would happen. In fact, I was often told that some others could not believe in Christ because their intellect was ‘blocking them’ to accept the truth. This disregard for your intellectual faculties is a good way to keep people in and making sure questions never get too rough!
It also creates a schism between the Christian world and the rest on a social level. I did not have many non-Christian friends. I used to (and still) seek knowledge, truth, and understanding of the world around me. If my secular friends just had wisdom that was foolish in the eyes of God, why bother? At least the Christians understood where I was coming from, and could provide me with useful wisdom. Of course at the practical level things worked just fine (e.g. work related tasks), but as soon as it got more deep, I felt a big disconnect.
This also explains the separate schools, political parties, and so on. Especially when it comes down to things that touch on the spiritual side (education, decisions, morality) the ‘mind of Christ’ can easily become more important than anything else. For example, most Americans would not ever want an atheist as president, even if (s)he was very skilled. For some, all that counts is how close the president ‘walks with the Lord’, since then Jesus is ruling the country, and the President is merely a puppet.
Finally, it dehumanizes and stops good listening skills. Nonbelievers can offer nothing more than foolishness when it comes to the spiritual realm, and even believers cannot rely on their own wisdom. If you are unlucky, as an unbeliever you can even be seen as an agent of the devil, and people will actively try to ignore what you say (some have done that with me).
This ‘wisdom of God’ idea is powerful stuff. Of course not every Christian will see it this way, but it’s very clearly written in the Bible and reflected in many different Christian denominations. It has surely kept me at bay for a long time: who wants to go to the side of unbelief, the fools, and the blind? Or who would claim to know things better as God, while God has said that His ways don’t always make sense? It’s a perfect “catch 22” situation.
But let’s be honest, sometimes the reverse also may be true: seculars may think that all religious people are thoroughly misguided and deluded and not fit for anything. I don’t think that Richard Dawkins would ever vote for a Christian to be the President (if he was American in the first place).
To this I say: we all have our biases and foolishness, big or small. No worldview is perfect. However, with God on your side, those biases can become absurd to the level where they don’t even make sense to your own logic, yet simultaneously praise yourself for your surrender to “Gods Wisdom”. To me, that is pure hapless naivity of a child. Let’s grow up and trust our brains for a bit.