Paul’s Dialectical Teaching
The Folly of the Cross
Thursday, April 9, 2015
Another dialectic that Paul presents is the perennial conflict of conservative and liberal. In his day, his own people, the Jews, became the stand-in for pious, law-abiding conservatives; the Greeks became his metaphor for intellectuals, cultural critics, and what we would call liberals. Paul sees the Jews trying to create order in the world by obedience to law and tribe. The Greeks try to create order by reason, understanding, logic, and education. Paul insists that neither of them can finally succeed because they do not have the ability to “incorporate the negative,” which will always be present. He recognizes that the greatest enemy of ordinary daily goodness and joy is not imperfection, but the demand for some supposed perfection or order. There seems to be a dark side to almost everything; all things are subject to “the powers and principalities.” Only the unitive or non-dual mind can accept this and not panic, but, in fact, grow because of it and grow beyond it.
Neither the liberal pattern nor the conservative pattern can deal with disorder and misery in any form. Paul believes that Jesus has revealed the only response that works. The revelation of the cross, he says, makes you indestructible, because it says there is a way through all absurdity and tragedy, and that way is precisely through accepting and even using absurdity and tragedy as part of God’s unfathomable agenda. If you internalize the mystery of the cross, you won’t fall into cynicism, failure, bitterness, or skepticism. The cross gives you a precise and profound way through the dark side of life and through all disappointments.
Paul allows both conservatives and liberals to define wisdom in their own ways, yet he dares to call both of them inadequate and finally wrong because he believes that such worldviews will eventually fail people. “God has shown up human wisdom as folly” on the cross (1Corinthians 1:21), and this is “an obstacle that the Jews [his own people] cannot get over,” and which the Gentiles or pagans think is simple “foolishness” (1:23).
For Paul, the code words for non-dual thinking, or true wisdom, are “foolishness” and “folly.” He says, in effect, “My thinking is foolishness to you, isn’t it?” It does not make sense unless you have confronted the mystery of the cross. Suffering, the “folly of the cross,” breaks down the dualistic mind. Why? Because on the cross, God took the worst thing, the killing of the God-man, and made it into the best thing, the very redemption of the world. The compassionate holding of essential meaninglessness or tragedy, as Jesus does on the cross, is the final and triumphant resolution of all the dualisms and dichotomies that we face in our own lives. We are thus “saved by the cross”!
Gateway to Silence:
I am not separate.
Adapted from Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi, pp. 73-75;
A New Way of Seeing . . . A New Way of Being: Jesus and Paul (CD, MP3 download);
In the Footsteps of St. Paul (CD)