By Contraries God Hath Overcome (Chrysostom)

Martin Luther talked about the strange or alien way God works: he gives life through death, salvation through suffering, mercy through judgment.  One place we see this in Scripture is 1 Corinthians 1, where the Apostle talks about the “foolishness” of God being wiser than human wisdom, and his “weakness” being stronger than man’s strength (1:25).  For the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.  Yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom (1 Cor. 1:22-24 HCSB).  I like how John Chrysostom commented on these verses:

Vast is the importance of the things here spoken!  For he means to say how by contraries God hath overcome, and how the Gospel is not of man. What he saith is something of this sort. When, saith he [Paul], we say unto the Jews, “Believe;” they answer, “Raise the dead, Heal the demoniacs, Shew unto us signs.” But instead thereof what say we? “That He was crucified, and died, who is preached.” And this is enough, not only to fail in drawing over the unwilling, but even to drive away those even who are willing. Nevertheless, it drives not away, but attracts and holds fast and overcomes.

Again, the Greeks demand of us a rhetorical style, and the acuteness of sophistry. But preach we to these also the Cross. That which in the case of the Jews seemed to be weakness, this in the case of the Greeks is foolishness. Wherefore, when we not only fail in producing what they [Jews and Greeks] demand, but also produce the very opposites of their demand, for the Cross has not merely no appearance of being a sign sought out by reasoning, but even the very annihilation of a sign.  It is not merely deemed no proof of power, but a conviction of weakness; not merely no display of wisdom, but a suggestion of foolishness.  When therefore they who seek for signs and wisdom not only receive not the things which they ask, but even hear the contrary to what they desire, and then by means of contraries are persuaded, how is not the power of Him that is preached unspeakable?

As if to some one tempest-tossed and longing for a haven, you were to show not a haven but another wilder portion of the sea, and so could make him follow with thankfulness? Or as if a physician could attract to himself the man that was wounded and in need of remedies, by promising to cure him not with drugs, but with burning of him again!  For this is a result of great power indeed. So also the Apostles prevailed, not simply without a sign, but even by a thing which seemed contrary to all the known signs.

Which thing also Christ did in the case of the blind man. For when He would heal him, He took away the blindness by a thing that increased it, that is, He put on clay. (John 9:6) As then by means of clay He healed the blind man, so also by means of the Cross He brought the world to Himself. That certainly was adding an offense, not taking an offense away. So did He also in creation, working out things by their contraries. With sand, for instance, He walled in the sea, having made the weak a bridle to the strong…. By means of the prophets again with a small piece of wood He raised up iron from the bottom. (2 Ki. 6:5-7)…. You see now, it is proof of great power and wisdom, to convince by means of the things which tell directly against us. Thus the Cross seems to be matter of offense; and yet far from offending, it even attracts.

John Chrysostom, NPNF, series 1, volume 12, p 18-19.

Shane Lems

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