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FIRST-PERSON: The foolishness of God

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–It is just plain foolish.

It is foolish for a man with a Ph.D. in rocket engineering to leave the money and the worldly prestige behind to answer God’s call to become a preacher of the cross of Christ, yet he has.

It is foolish for men and women to endure beatings and imprisonment and deprivation of all manner simply because they refuse to renounce the cross of Christ, yet millions have.

It is foolish to leave friends, families, comforts and safety behind to spend your life in a hospital in Yemen, to heal the sick and to tell the lost about the cross of Christ. Yet William Koehn, Martha Myers, Kathleen Gariety, Don Caswell and others have.

It is just plain foolish. The apostle Paul told us as much in 1 Corinthians 1:18: “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

It may be observed that when Paul spoke of the logos of the cross, he was speaking not only of a divine wisdom but also of a divine communication. The cross was at once both God’s wisdom for the salvation of the race and the communication of such diverse attributes as his just holiness in reaction to sin and his love for the sinner. It is worth noting with R. St. John Parry that only Paul used the word “cross” to summarize the whole aspect of suffering in the life and work of Christ. As Parry writes, “It describes the death of Christ in its most profound humiliation and its most direct contradiction of men’s ordinary thoughts.” Therefore, when Paul wrote of the word of the cross, he intended the reader to understand the full doctrine of the atoning death of Jesus.

However, this word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness. Two issues must be addressed here. First, “those who are perishing” is a present participle indicating continual action. In other words, the act of perishing has already begun and will continue unbroken unless there is repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ. The second thing to note is the word “perishing” itself. It is the Greek verb apollumi, which derives in turn from the verb luo, “to loose,” and the preposition apo, which means “from” or “away from.” Careful study of the word reveals no concept of annihilation. The fact that the process is already pictured as having begun should be ample indication that annihilation is not the idea of this word. Rather, the best insight to its meaning is simply to understand the most basic meanings already suggested. The word means literally “to loose from something.” Those who are lost are being continually loosed from any relationship to God — even from temporal and physical blessings. Only as men are properly related to God does life have meaning and significance. Otherwise, it soon degenerates to mere existence — frustrating and meaningless existence at that. The process of perishing has already begun and will continue infinitely into the future, ultimately culminating in eternal punishment.

To those who are perishing, the word of the cross is foolishness. The word “foolishness” (moria) gives us our word “moron.” It is a strong Greek term which, strictly speaking, means “absurdity.” In other words, those who are in the process of perishing are so far removed from godly wisdom that the logos of the cross seems to be an absurdity. It is the antithesis of everything men are taught to believe. In this world men rise to position and prominence either by strength or cunning or both. That anything significant should be accomplished through the ignominious death of a carpenter of Nazareth was sheer absurdity to the Greek mind.

However, for those who “are being saved” (another present participle) the word of the cross is the dynamic of God. “Being saved” is a present passive participle, indicating once again the inability of those who are being saved to accomplish that end in their own strength. It is God who is acting to save them through his own power (dunamis).

Oh, that we all might be as foolish as our persecuted brothers and sisters, as foolish as our slain and wounded Southern Baptist personnel in Yemen and around the world, as foolish as Paul, as foolish as Jesus. May we be imbued with the foolishness of the cross of Christ, the foolishness that is the only source of real power in a weak and silly world.
Paige Patterson is president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. Adapted in part from Patterson’s commentary on 1 Corinthians, “The Troubled Triumphant Church” (Eugene, Ore.: Wipf and Stock, 2002.) (c) Paige Patterson. Used by permission. Copies of the book may be ordered through Southeastern’s website, www.sebts.edu.

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  • Paige Patterson