It is timely to note, during this Christmas season, Paul’s theology of the fool for Christ: the Christian believer who adheres to the message of the gospel. As I was writing my previous post on Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus, it struck me that Herod played the fool in Matthew’s account. In Herod’s own wisdom – or folly to us – he thought he could resolve the rumor of the birth of the child-king by ordering the massacre of the innocents (princes plot together against the Lord and his anointed (Ps 2:2). Yet the child Jesus outwitted and survived Herod (The one enthroned in heaven laughs… I myself have installed my king on Zion Ps 2:4-6).
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul speaks of foolishness four times in the first four chapters. In chapter one, Paul uses his classically elliptical language thus: For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who have faith. In I Corinthians 4:10 that we encounter this passage: We are fool’s on Christ’s account, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are held in honor, but we in disrepute. Paul uses irony to compare the ‘foolishness’ of his own apostolic work with the self-satisfied attitude of some of the members of the church in Corinth.
As a literary device, foolishness in Paul’s rhetoric is a deliberate reversal of the Jewish understanding of a fool in Proverbs. In Jewish wisdom, the fool is held in contempt. For instance, fools mock at sin, but among the upright there is favor (Proverbs 14:9). Also, he who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed” (Proverbs 13:20). And, the way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise (Proverbs 12:15).
Paul sums up the tension with this classic phrase, for the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. In other words, what God defines a wisdom, sofia in Greek, may be foolishness (moria) to us. By the same token, our conventional wisdom may be folly to God. In both the incarnation and the passion of Jesus, we see the folly of human wisdom, and the triumph of God’s folly, play out in human history.
Why do the nations protest and the peoples grumble in vain?
Kings on earth rise up and princes plot together against the LORD and his anointed:
“Let us break their shackles and cast off their chains!”
The one enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord derides them,
Then speaks to them in anger, terrifies them in wrath:
“I myself have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.”
I will proclaim the decree of the LORD, who said to me, “You are my son; today I am your father.
Only ask it of me, and I will make your inheritance the nations, your possession the ends of the earth.
With an iron rod you shall shepherd them, like a clay pot you will shatter them.”
And now, kings, give heed; take warning, rulers on earth.
Serve the LORD with fear; with trembling bow down in homage,
Lest God be angry and you perish from the way in a sudden blaze of anger.