Wednesday, April 12, 2006

the foolishness of God

passion. it's a word that carries a mostly positive connotation these days, either of a deep and abiding enthusiasm or even of the powerful attraction and desire between a man and a woman. to be passionate is to be alive; to be passionless is… sad.

before i became a christian, i never would have guessed that the latin root for the word actually means 'to suffer.' i was shocked to discover (now years ago) that passion week was the week leading up to Jesus' crucifixion — and the suffering that went with it. after watching mel gibson's controversial the passion of the christ for the first time this past week, 'passion' carries a fresh intensity for me.

i wanted to like the film. it was clear that there were people in the audience who were deeply moved, even having a spiritual experience. but i just felt numb. a small group of us — nearly all believers of one sort or another — stayed afterward to discuss our reactions to what we had seen. a few waxed eloquently about the tremendous love of God, while another asserted that this is what Jesus came to do. i wanted to be amazed or grateful or worshipful, or at least to be able to be articulate about the sufferings of Jesus. but i was mostly dazed. i mumbled rather weakly about needing time to process the experience, and after our brief discussion, headed out for a long walk to the bus stop.

i was troubled in my spirit, probably for more than one reason. the story was not as true to the biblical version as i would've preferred; gibson drew on a variety of sources for the film, including the traditional stations of the cross and the visions of a stigmatic nun. that, in itself, wouldn't bother me, except that the folks in the discussion largely agreed that it was biblical. but is that what was really eating at me? the comment about this being what Jesus came to do was closer to the mark. i told God that i thought it was clear from his word that this was not all that Jesus came to do. yes, he came to suffer and die, but he also came to live — to reveal who God really is and what he's like in a form that we could relate to and begin to fathom. the film partly troubled me because it seemed out of proportion: so much emphasis on Jesus' suffering and death, so little on his life.

but for all of my analysis, there was something visceral about the film that nagged at me. how could all of that violence, all of that pain, be for me, for all of us? i'll admit that i'm puzzled by the mechanics of the whole transaction; is it really as simple as Jesus taking the beating that we deserved, or is there a deeper logic at work?

surely our griefs he himself bore,
and our sorrows he carried;
yet we ourselves esteemed him stricken,
smitten of God, and afflicted.
but he was pierced through for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the chastening for our well-being fell upon him,
and by his scourging we are healed.

isaiah 53:4-5

there is a mystery here that is beyond my power to explain and even to comprehend, really. nevertheless, some things are clear: the awfulness of sin and evil, the terrible price of our deliverance, and the wonder of a God who didn't abandon the world, but entered it as one of us, making himself vulnerable to evil's worst so that he could eradicate it while embracing us.

for now, i am content with my limited understanding and a God who is so committed to relationship with us and the redemption of the world that he came in person to ensure that it came to pass.

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. for it is written, “i will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever i will set aside.” where is the wise man? where is the scribe? where is the debater 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 come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. for indeed jews ask for signs and greeks search for wisdom; but we preach christ crucified, to jews a stumbling block and to gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both jews and greeks, christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 1 corinthians 1:18-25

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