Six Impossible Things
1 Corinthians 1:17-31
“Sometimes I believe in as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” So says Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, which we usually refer to as “Alice in Wonderland.”
We all believe in impossible things. We believe things we’ve been told about the natural world even though they aren’t true. Some people believe that water spins backward in toilets in the southern hemisphere (it doesn’t). People believed (if we go back far enough) that the sun revolves around the earth—and that belief is natural enough if you have no evidence to the contrary. We stand in one place and watch the sun as it “comes up” and “goes down”—and we continue to use those words even though we know they’re not correct.
If you’ve ever read “Alice,” (or seen one of the many movies from Walt Disney to Johnny Depp) you know that the whole book is fantasy—or is it? There’s a lot of truth in that story, and a lot of characters who resemble people we meet every day, people with faults and curious personality traits that make us say, “Oh yes: I know someone just like that!”
Paul speaks eloquently about impossible things in the first chapter of his first letter to the Corinthian church. He doesn’t use the word “impossible,” of course. Instead he uses the word “foolish.” The idea is the same. If we are to accept the gospel then we have to believe facts that we can’t prove. We have to believe that the laws of nature as we understand them can be set aside by the God who created them. Those of us who are believers don’t have a problem with that. Our faith is strong enough to accept these impossibilities. We know in our hearts that they are true, even though the world tells us they can’t possibly be so.
The world says that there is no God, so it’s impossible that this “imaginary” Creator could somehow come to earth in human form. That’s just an extension of the old Greek myths, and we know how unbelievable they are.
The world says that, while there are heroes who give their lives for friends, family or comrades, or because they have a commitment to humanity, the idea of someone giving his life for the world in one of the ugliest and most painful ways to die is impossible. Even if there were a God, that God couldn’t care enough about all humanity to die for it—and for what? To “save” us from sin? Who says there is anything like sin in the first place?
The world says that once you’re dead, you’re dead. There’s no coming back to life. There’s no escaping the grave—not now and not in some rose colored future called “eternity.”
Paul was an educated man. He knew the Hebrew Scriptures thoroughly. He had quite likely read Greek philosophy and non-biblical Middle Eastern wisdom literature as well. He knew enough about human wisdom to know its strengths and weaknesses. He was trained in the law, and therefore in logic, and would have thought matters through in a way that few people of his time would have been able to do.
Yet Paul tells us with no equivocation that human wisdom cannot understand or explain God or God’s way of interacting with humankind. This God, the creator of the universe, the One who set the stars in place and the whole of life in motion, has chosen to behave in ways that go beyond our comprehension. If we try to apply the rules of human wisdom to this God we will fail miserably. All we can do is rely on the wisdom of God to be our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification and our redemption.
Like Alice, we have a lot of “impossible” things to believe.