Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many; the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden.
– Plato (in Phaedrus)
According to Plato, it’s all about perception, about the fact that appearances may only be a flawed reflection of the truth of a situation. Martin Luther once said, “That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened” (Thesis 19, Heidelberg Disputation, 1518). He went on to say that one who claims to theologize based on surface appearances should be known as a “theologian of glory,” or to say it another way, what Paul described in 1 Corinthians 1:20 as the “philosopher of the age.” The apostle speaks here of those who do not comprehend the counterintuitive message of the Gospel: that God gave Himself up to the sufferings of the Cross for the sake of an undeserving and ungrateful people. It really is kind of counterintuitive…
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
– 1 Corinthians 1:18
Often, I find myself sliding all too comfortably into a theology of glory; I believe too easily that life is about glory, about blessings and success. But if there is one message Christ preached, it was not a sermon he spoke, nor was it even the life he lived. It was the death that he died: the Cross. It is the Cross to which the Christ-follower is called, not glory. It is the Cross from which the true theologians get their picture of God’s plan, not glory. It is the Cross by which we have been saved, not glory.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
– 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
And this is more than simply learning to live in a world where there is suffering (although this is most certainly part of the Christian experience, simply because it is part of the human experience). Indeed, it even goes beyond just accepting that suffering is inevitable (even though it is). It approaches a strange, counterintuitive – dare I say foolish? – approach to life: that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). We are not called to glory in this life. We are called to suffer as Christ suffered, knowing our hope is for what is unseen. We are called to be “content” with weakness, because this is the way things really are. The way of strength, perfection, and glory may seem right, and it is so tempting to live wrapped up in these things. But things are not always what they seem: up is down and down is up; strength is weakness and weakness is strength. Oh that we could live in light of this truth… a theology of the Cross.