How intelligent is intelligence?

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

In 1953 Francis Crick and James Watson published the double helix structure of DNA, which has been responsible for huge leaps forward in health care and criminal detection. It was not without its controversy as it was based upon unpublished work of Rosalind Franklin without her knowledge or consent, yet they won a Nobel Prize. Francis Crick was also something of the Richard Dawkins of his generation, being famously anti-religious. Indeed, Francis Crick once claimed to have located “the cells of our soul.”

Francis Crick conducted much research targeted at disproving the existence of the soul. He said that he believed that he had proved that our minds can be explained entirely by the interaction of nerve cells. He said that one day humanity will come to accept that the concept of souls and the promise of eternal life were a deception, just as they now accept that the earth is not flat.

Francis Crick was clearly a highly intelligent scientist, who has spent his life in research for the ultimate good of humanity, but it seems that perhaps he had failed to grasp God’s wisdom. His scientific intelligence was undoubtedly massive, but perhaps his spiritual intelligence may be a little lower.

Michael Reiss, Professor of Science Education at University College London and also an Anglican Priest, said that Crick had missed the point. He said, “It’s like saying that a cathedral is a pile of stones and glass. It’s true, but is too simplistic and misses the point.”

For Christians, where the soul is located or how it’s composed are largely irrelevant. What’s important is a real and living experience of God, in which God’s love, support, help, and guidance are evident in some way. They may be evident in retrospect much of the time, but many Christians experience an overwhelming feeling of being loved, often at unexpected times and at times when it’s most necessary. Some scientists may claim that such experiences are merely chemical and electrical reactions within cells, and they may be right, but however it’s manifest, nothing changes the experience, and those who have experienced God in some way will never forget that experience.

In today’s reading from his first letter to the Church in Corinth, Paul quotes God as saying: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” I think what Paul was getting at is that spiritual intelligence is as far away from brain power as Jesus was from kingship. Jesus had none of the earthly trappings of kingship, yet was the perfect model for a king. Some of the most spiritual people may have severe learning difficulties, and children often tend to be much more spiritual than adults.

If you were to look at the crucifixion and the events leading up to it without any sense of spiritual intelligence, then of course you’ll only see utter stupidity. Jesus plunged headlong into self-destruction, when a bit of thought could have saved his life. He was executed in the most hideous and agonising way, bringing terrible suffering not only to himself, but to his mother, his friends, his new “Jesus movement”, and anyone who knew him. He could easily have avoided the cross, and have spent many more years teaching and preaching and healing and bringing good to the world, until he died of old age.

The cross is utter foolishness without spiritual intelligence, but to those with spiritual intelligence it demonstrates the supreme love of God for human beings, and it gives human beings the power of God. How can the foolishness of God be wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God be stronger than human strength? You may remember the old adage that knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable, but wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

It’s very hard to prove the existence of God, especially someone who doesn’t want the existence of God to be proved, but for those who are willing to be the fools of love, who feel in their heart of hearts that, however far their own performance may fall short, the love of God that we see on the cross is the highest of all values, because despite all that human beings did to him, Jesus – God become human – continued to love and forgive and support and strengthen and guide human beings. And Jesus – God become human – faced all that human beings subjected him to, without flinching. He refused to evade or avoid the worst excesses of human torture or the blackest depths of human depravity, but lived them on the cross and lived through them on the cross. And the result of the cross was glorious resurrection and new life. The foolishness of the cross is facing all that life throws at us, with honesty, with love, with God, and without flinching. And the result of facing our own horrors, whatever they might be, is glorious resurrection.

It may be much more sensible for intelligent people to avoid any personal horrors if they possibly can. We constantly see in the media people who have attempted to avoid their own personal horrors through deceit and cover-ups and treading all over those below them. These are the people who are caught out in the end. But there are probably many more who are never caught out – those who are truly intelligent – except that those who follow this path never experience the glory of resurrection, never wonder at God’s wisdom.

What this means is that the cross is the reversal of power as violent control, because it is the power to bring life, even in the face of the worst, most destructive power that can be brought to bear. The point of the cross is that it is showing us a model of power that is not coercive, not manipulative, not dominating. If we look at the cross for signs of power without spiritual intelligence we’ll be fooled into thinking that we see weakness, vulnerability to coercion, manipulation, and domination, but the lesson of the cross is that even the most violent efforts to manipulate life, to control the power of God, are finally overcome by that very power that by worldly standards looks like weakness.
How intelligent is intelligence? Give me the foolishness of God any time, and help me to dare to be weak so that God’s strength can be made visible and real.

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