In his recent insightful and challenging book, The Word of the Cross, Jonathan Linebaugh quotes WH Auden’s, ‘For the Time Being’: Nothing can save us that is possible / we who must die demand a miracle.

In First Corinthians chapter 1, verses 18 and 19 Paul the Apostle writes: For the message about 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 discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Following the logic of verse 18 we might have expected Paul to say, For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the wisdom of God. Instead, he tells us that it is the power of God. Yes, in verse 24 he does say that the cross is the wisdom of God, but he wants to emphasize something more important. He wants us to know first and foremost, that in the cross of Christ the power of God is active – at work.

Paul doesn’t want us to think of the cross of Christ as a philosophical system set against the folly of others. Rather, he wants us to know that God, in his wisdom, has addressed the root problem of the human dilemma in a way that no other philosophy or religion has – through a powerful miracle.

Let’s think about this. Humanity has made incredible strides in the field of science and technology: people have travelled in space and walked on the moon; wherever we are we can keep in touch with one another and the world through our smart phones. But we still have a major problem: our relationships. There’s always something that causes tension and conflict – between nations, between ideologies and philosophies, between the sexes.

William Golding, the author of Lord of the Flies, was asked why he wrote it. To which he responded: ‘I believed then, that man was sick – not exceptional man, but average man. I believed that the condition of man was to be a morally diseased creation and that the best job I could do at the time was to trace the connection between his diseased nature and the international mess he gets himself into’.

In First Corinthians, chapter 1 Paul is telling us that where human wisdom has failed to find answers, God has stepped in and miraculously acted. Through the cross of Jesus Christ, God has used his powerful resources to provide a solution to our human dilemma in a way that nothing else could.

The implication is that we live in a moral universe. We are not here by chance simply to make the best of our fleeting life. We are creatures made in the image of our creator to whom we are accountable. Our deepest problem is that we have rejected our maker and endeavored to live without him. And what happens? The deep divisions in the western world suggest we aren’t able to govern ourselves.

And perhaps that’s our real problem. We don’t want others to govern us. We want to govern.

The extraordinary news of the Bible is that God has stepped into our world in person and that through the scandalous event of the death of his Son on a cross, he has powerfully provided a new start for the perishing. The cross is the place where God has destroyed all human arrogance and pretense.

So, Paul asks, Where is the one who is wise? (v.20). This is a reference to the philosophers of the day, Epicureans, Platonists or Stoics, who all had their views about what life is about and how it should be lived. ‘But what real, lasting solution do they have to offer?’ Paul questions.

Where is the scribe? he continues. This is a reference to experts in the Jewish law: where are they? Apart from focusing on the law which no one can keep, what solution do they propose that might sort out our relationship with God and with one another?

Paul continues, Where is the debater of this age? Where are the orators? Or we might ask, where are the academics or the expert media commentators who can offer a just and lasting solution to our human tragedy? Indeed, can we even trust the news media and commentators?  In February 2015 Brian Williams, a news anchor with NBC, America, recanted on a story he had told that he said he was shot down over Iraq in 2003. He said he had ‘made a mistake’.

Paul is saying that through the cross of Jesus Christ, God made foolish the wisdom of the world. God has upstaged the vanity and pretense of human wisdom by an action of his own.

In verse 21 he writes: In the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom,…

The brilliant minds of the world of academia, the expert voices of media celebrities with their unctuous tones, have not been able to offer a solution to our human dilemma. None point to God, the creator of the universe. And certainly, none point to the scandal of the cross.

There is something strange in what God is doing here, but there is a rightness about it. Paul is saying that God has deliberately ordered things this way so that an arrogant, self-centered people cannot, and will not, find a solution. If we could do this by ourselves, we potentially put ourselves in the driving seat and that would only add to the pride we already have… ‘Ha, God! We can do without you.’

But consider the second part of verse 21: God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. This is breath-taking. Through the preaching of Christ crucified, a message that seems so senseless and inane when we first come across it, God has determined to rescue anyone who believes. I am sure you see the implications of this. God, in his wisdom, has determined on a plan that to human eyes seems ludicrous.

Furthermore, it means that all people – it doesn’t matter who they are – have an equal opportunity to benefit. Priority isn’t given to the highly intelligent, the wealthy, the successful or the celebrities. God’s offer of salvation is open to anyone who, by his grace, trusts him at his word.

The message of Christ crucified is God’s strange miracle that powerfully subverts the wisdom of the world and provides the one and only solution to our human need – restoration of our relationship with God and a motivation and a model for working out our relationships with one another.

As Auden wrote: Nothing can save us that is possible / we who must die demand a miracle.

A prayer. Merciful God, who created all men and women in your image and who hates nothing you have made, nor would have the death of a sinner, but rather that they should be converted and live; have mercy on all people everywhere and take from them all ignorance and hardness of heart and contempt of your Word; and so fetch them home, blessed Lord, to your flock, that they may be saved among the remnant of your ancient people, and be made one fold under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

© John G. Mason