What convinces you to believe something to be true? Is it seeing with your own eyes? Is it knowing that you know? Is it having empirical evidence? Is it faith? Is it the large number of convinced people on the subject? Is it hearing the certainty of the “experts” on the matter? Is it based upon your personal experience? I would imagine that everyone reading this would answer “yes” to one or more of the above. In fact, I ask these questions because these are the reasons people have given me through the years for being convinced that something is true.
Nearly 2,000 years ago, the apostle Paul noted two categories of verification that people typically seek. It happened to be in reference to a conversation about how people respond to Jesus. But, the initial remark was a blanket, categorical assertion regarding what people are looking for to validate their belief. He said, “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom. . .” (I Corinthians 1:22). The Jews had witnessed a rash of miracles throughout their history. That was the generally accepted way they noted God’s favor and presence with them. Interestingly however, the generation that saw the most miracles, believed the least (while wandering between Egypt and the Holy Land where they all died for their unbelief). Nevertheless, the premise rests that religious people not only believe in miracles, but understand them to validate their belief.
Conversely, the Greeks were prone to disregard miracles, favoring rational thought as a validating principle for belief. Paul experienced their penchant for discussion, oration and philosophy in Athens- the center of Greek culture (Acts 17:17-33). There was a banal religious interest in the day. The gods themselves could change without too much disturbance. But, knowledge-based wisdom prevailed in their belief system.
Back to 1 Corinthians 1. Remarkably, Paul was unabashed at insinuating that both systems are flawed. After saying “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom” he followed with “but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” It is his own admission that core belief in Christ is inherently subject to cynicism. First, there is no present validation of the miraculous that could be directly tied to him. Second, it seems rather ridiculous for a logic-based secularism or logic based mild religious system to believe that someone who died generations ago can have a sweeping and wholesale impact on current human life. Christ crucified is precisely that- a dead figure.
But, at the core of “Christ crucified” is life change. The core notion is that through Jesus, the miracle of life and restoration and ultimate healing exists. And, furthermore, everything begins making sense (wisdom) for those who truly believe. Miracles on their own cannot do that. Logic on its own cannot do that. Jesus can.
Miracles on their own can lead a person anywhere. Logic alone is a poor substitute for wisdom. But, when tied to the person and work of Jesus, miracles and logic are fundamentally convincing for the believer. The irony of this is that Jesus provides the consummate miracle in transformation and is, in fact, the ultimate expression of truth through his revelation. So, miracles and logic of themselves are arbitrary, dry, sterile and never convincing. When tied to the living Christ, they are transforming, enlightening and life changing. In a strange twist, the very thing that people look away from Christ to find, can only be found in Christ.
What convinces you? If it is the miraculous or a sound argument, I guarantee you will need more of either in time. Miracles and logic left on their own only validate whatever we want them to validate. If it is Christ, you have enough of the truly miraculous and wisdom for a lifetime. I am convinced that Christ crucified not only satisfies, but makes wisdom vibrant and life giving and it makes the miraculous sensible.