1Co 1 22-25 The Sadness of God Is Happier
Time and again the Apostle Paul preached his message to two completely different societies and found they had one major thing in common: They didn’t like what he had to say.
Why not? Well, Paul noted, “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom.” Unfortunately a humiliated Savior, bloodied and beaten by mortal men, neither satisfied the Jewish cry for a show of divine power nor the Greek quest for higher wisdom. The Savior Paul preached was to both societies just a dead guy.
But Paul knew that there was both great power and a higher wisdom in the message he had been called to preach. “For the foolishness of God,” he explained, “is wiser than man’s wisdom [his answer to the skeptical Greeks], and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength [his answer to the power-seeking Jews].” As a preacher in American society, allow me to offer a third comparison for our consideration: The Sadness of God Is Happier than man’s happiness.
Let me explain why this comparison is appropriate. Paul noticed that when Jews of his day didn’t listen to him it was usually because their society had this certain image of what made a message spiritually worthwhile: power from God. That’s why Jesus was almost universally rejected in Jerusalem: you simply shouldn’t be able to kill God’s mighty Messiah by nailing him down with plain, old, ordinary crucifixion nails. It made him look pathetically powerless. As Paul put it, this made Christ “a stumbling block to Jews.”
It was similar with the Greeks who rejected Paul’s message. Only instead of miraculous powers, Greeks were looking for a certain kind of intellectual complexity. To them that made a message spiritually worthwhile. Paul says that the message of Christ crucified sounded like foolishness to their philosophically refined tastes.
What do Americans look for? I submit that what our society looks for in a spiritually worthwhile message is happiness. Ever noticed that? “Whatever makes you happy,” people in our culture are so used to saying, “just so long as you’re not hurting anyone.” Actions are not judged in our culture according to the “foolishness” of a strict, biblical morality, but on the basis of whether or not it makes you “feel good.” Today’s hero is the person who gets over the limited morality of their strict, narrow-minded upbringing and opens their minds to all the things that can make people happy even though they were once called sins. Continuing to call such potential sources of happiness sinful just brings people down, making them feel guilty and destroying their joy.
Feeling guilty. There I think is the real heart of the matter. If you take the Bible seriously—really seriously—it will make you feel guilty about all kinds of things you do. It cuts into our happiness too much. Feeling guilty is not feeling good; it is feeling sad. And that’s why true, scriptural Christianity just doesn’t pass our society’s test for being spiritually worthwhile. I mean, really! All these Lent songs are real downers, aren’t they? Too much serious talk about the whole “sin thing.” We gotta lighten up! So, drawing on Paul’s analyses of the two cultures he was used to dealing with, I add this analysis that, while not inspired, I believe to be accurate: Jews demand miraculous signs, Greeks look for wisdom and Americans pursue happiness.
And we are Americans! Let us not be so arrogant as to think that Christians are immune to the influence of this powerful cultural consciousness. We, too, pursue happiness at the cost of ignoring God’s truth. What else explains our love-hate relationship with Christian radio? We know it contains false teachings, but we prefer just to push that difficulty aside so that we can joy in the existence of a Christian radio station. We’ll just ignore the sad but true facts about the number of compromises to the truth people have to make to get enough Christians to support such a costly venture. How important can that be when the music makes you feel so good?
To be honest, the hardest thing about preaching on this topic is not finding examples of how we compromise the truth because it’s depressing to stick to it, it’s deciding which of the thousands of examples to use and which to leave out. We would rather not bash certain movies because they make us feel good despite their glaring moral problems. We don’t talk with our friends about their sins because it would put a damper on our friendship. We avoid being too “religious” because it might keep us away from certain “fun” things. This God stuff could cut into our happiness.
So the Jews were disappointed with Paul’s message because he reduced the mighty and powerful Messiah to a beaten and bloody man who didn’t save himself from a horrible and unjust death. The Greeks wouldn’t listen because Paul’s message didn’t seem too intellectually challenging. Americans are dissatisfied—that is to say, we are dissatisfied with Paul’s message—because the death of God’s Christ makes us take sin too seriously. It isn’t the feel-good message that makes us feel like good people. And what could be worse to an American than feeling sad about yourself! What message could be more spiritually destructive in our culture than one that might actually reduce our enjoyment of this brief life!
So to the Jew disappointed in the weakness of an executed Christ Paul said, “…the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” To the Greek who considered the truth of Christ crucified simple and foolish Paul said, “…the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom.” And to the American shrinking back from the somber and sad message of our sickly sinfulness, Paul says, “The sadness of God is happier than man’s happiness.”
Actually, the three messages are one and the same. They each say, “Do not allow your sinful mind to make up your mind for you about what is good and what is not.” Does Christ seem weak to you because he was killed by mortals? Note the power his death demonstrated. In dying Jesus himself took on the power of death—later to rise victoriously from the grave! Does the message seem foolish becomes it comes down to the simple story of a rabbi being killed for what he taught? Then note that his sacrifice is a window into the very nature of our loving, faithful, Savior God. Does the message seem sad because it treats every misstep we have taken as a sin deserving eternal damnation? Then note that Christ crucified is the only message that truly remedies the sadness caused by guilt. You can try to ignore the guilt of sin, distract yourself from it with worldly pleasures and carelessness. You can try to redirect your responsibility on to other people. You can try to remove the sadness caused by your nagging conscience by retraining your inner voice according to a human version of right and wrong. But the only way to true happiness—happiness from God—is to stop ignoring the guilt and rejoice that Christ took the entire weight of it upon himself when he died our death and then lived to tell about it!
Is there sadness in that message? Yes. The saddening thing is that we have sinned against a perfectly loving God. But ignoring this sad truth does not make it go away. God himself has both acknowledged that truth and removed its sad consequences by suffering the consequences for us as our substitute. Therefore we lament the sad truth that we caused our Savior’s death. But we find true happiness in the fact that God has turned our sorrow into joy by dying to save us! The sad truth of our death sentence leads then to the only true comfort there is: the happy message that God sentenced his own Son to death in our place, so that we could have eternal life.
“We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles [as well as a sadness to Americans!], but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks [and Americans!], Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God [and the happiness of God!].” You know, I can just picture someone coming into one of our Wednesday night Lenten services during one of those great Lenten hymns like O Dearest Jesus. They would come in, listen to the sorrowful music and think, “Man! Who died? I thought Christians were supposed to be happy!”
But you know as well as I that the joy we get from Lenten hymns goes far deeper than the happy-go-lucky drivel that passes for “spiritual” music in American culture. The sad tone recognizes the depth of our sin. But instead of wallowing in sin’s misery, it also preaches a Savior who allows us to face the problem head on and win! Stand confident in his boundless strength, his unfathomable wisdom and his true and honest happiness. Human philosophies and opinions are sad substitutes. Amen.