"For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." 1Cor. 1:18
I was reading this passage and it struck me anew. For the past six months I've been reminded (and irritating my friends) time and time again by saying that "God is smart and we are stupid." My purpose in repeating this near-mantra is to remind my friends - but especially myself - of a simple reality. Life's issues are hard and complex. That's why we need Jesus (who is the smartest man whoever lived and - oh, by the way, also God) to help us. Rather than rely on our own cleverness, we need to develop the kind of relationship with Jesus that allows him to help us through life's problems.
This passage also strikes at the whole "are-you-really-as-clever-as-you-think-you-are?" thing. When we look at Paul's analysis (and Paul was no mean intellect) both here and other places, we see how very clever God was in using the apparently foolish, weak, low, and non-existent to bring forth something that now is clearly wise, strong, high, and obvious - at least, to those who are being saved.
I've had the interesting experience of rubbing elbows with some pretty smart people. Truly, when you go through law school you really do meet 'scary smart' people and the 'debaters of this age.' And I've met other smart people: physicians, scientists, engineers, business leaders, political operatives, etc. They really understand how things work and can put ideas and facts together to make sense of the world. They understand how this world works.
But - and here's the problem - this world, as it works today, is "not the way it's supposed to be." The world, in this sense, is in profound rebellion to the benevolent judge who created it. And that's utterly ironic as these clever people just don't get it. They are the very ones who ought to be the most perceptive in understanding and discerning what is obvious about God from just observing the created world around them. Paul, in his letter to Romans, makes the case that both the observers of nature and the ethical "moralists" have deliberately ignored the obvious: that God exists, is moral, is personal, and will judge wrong-doing.
Why? Why should such clever people miss the obvious? Well, over in that letter to Romans Paul states that it is not an intellectual issue as much as a issue of the will - they just choose to go the other direction. Back in this passage in 1 Corinthians, Paul give us another insight: "For since (in the wisdom of God) the world did not know God through wisdom ..." (1:21). That is, God cleverly constructed the world in such a way that knowledge about him couldn't be gained through only the intellectual elite.
So - and this is part of "the wisdom of God" - it turns out that very normal folks like you and me can "get it." And it really is very simple: Jesus is good and deserves all the good things, I am bad and deserve all the bad things, Jesus (because he is Really Good) willingly took the punishment that I deserved and gave me his good things. Now that's pretty good news and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to appreciate that. If for no other reason than the science of rocketry wasn't invented until 2000 years later. :-) Back to my point: the good news ("gospel") is pretty easily understood by anyone from five to ninety-five. That's one thing that makes God cleverer than the world.
It is helpful, I think, to note that Paul doesn't bash on intellectuals just because they are smart. Notice he does say that the church, while it doesn't have loads of clever and powerful people in it, apparently does have a few (1Cor. 1:26). I think the point here is that God opposess "elite-ism;" whether "elite" because of worldly power or "non-elite" because lack of seeming influence. God has little regard for power politics. "God is opposed to the proud..." (Prov 3:34; Ps 138:6; Jas 4:6, 1Pt 5:5).