Thursday, August 11, 2005

Man, God, World, Spirit

The second chapter of First Corinthians is a chapter of contrasts. St Paul had to make some important distinctions to converts who had a cultural background that favored wisdom and spirituality. The “wisdom of the Greeks” is exalted as the source of Western philosophy. Yet life in God requires something more: “that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1Cor. 2:5). Not that Paul renounced wisdom as such, he only sought a higher form: “we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification” (v.7).

This wisdom of God far transcends the wisdom of man: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him—God has revealed this to us through the Spirit” (vv.9-10). As God’s wisdom surpasses that of man, so the things of the Spirit surpass those of the world. “We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit…” (v.12-13).

There’s a constant comparison going on here between the things of man and those of God, the things of the world and those of the Spirit, people of the world and people of God, “natural” people and spiritual people. St Paul is trying to get us to see that our faith in Christ, responding to the grace of God, has raised us up to a new level of being, has transformed us in mind and spirit, and should open us up to new and higher perceptions and perspectives. Much of the rest of this epistle has to do with the concrete forms this new life and awareness should take—how we ought to behave and how we ought not behave, as new creations, as those who “have the mind of Christ” (v.16).

Do we live like we have the mind of Christ? Do we understand the things that have to be spiritually discerned? Are we aware that the “wisdom of man” is inadequate to live a life that is pleasing to God? Do we uncritically accept what comes from the “spirit of the world” when we are called to perceive and respond to the events and tasks of life according to the Spirit of God? “Going with the flow” will only take you down the drain. We have to absorb the wisdom of God and then communicate it to this world by the way we think and speak and act. It is important to understand this, for the cost of ignorance is high. St Paul reminds us that those who did not understand the wisdom of God crucified the Lord of Glory (v.8). Don’t settle for wisdom that is less than divine.