I became a Christian over a decade ago. It was a surprise to me and to all who knew me. After all, I am a nerd, of an intellectual bent, and the prevailing wisdom of my friends and acquaintances was that only stupid people were Christian. The notion, despite abundant counter-examples both historically and locally, was that any sufficiently intelligent or sufficiently educated person would leave behind such medieval superstitions as Christianity. When I became a Christian, I learned to praise God that I was dumb enough for Jesus, and I found biblical support for that view.
After Jesus claimed my life, I began reading the Bible voraciously. Some people talk about how comforting the Bible is; I mostly found it difficult to understand, and even shocking in parts. I made long lists of questions I had. But eventually God’s grace, through a variety of means, led me to understand and believe what I was reading. This in itself was shocking to many of my friends and mentors. One mentor, a professor at my university, expressed surprise that I should become a fundamentalist. I was so clueless I had to ask her what the term meant; she defined it as “a Christian who takes the text of the Bible seriously.” My response was that I was trained as an English major to take any text seriously! Another mentor, an academic adviser in the English department at the time, thought I should become a Roman Catholic rather than a Bible-believing Protestant, “because at least they have a respectable intellectual tradition.”
But by then the damage had been done. All of my intellectual posturing in my teenage years had not alleviated my deep depression; indeed, my post-modern commitments likely contributed to it. My mental wrestling had failed to show me any way out of the problem that even according to my very relaxed moral code, I repeatedly stood condemned: “as long as you don’t harm anyone, do what you will” is scant comfort when one finds oneself unable to prevent oneself from harming others. My thoughts had not brought me peace; they had only caused my worldview to self-destruct. And that’s when Jesus, surprisingly, graciously, reached in and grabbed me. That’s what I needed.
Some things he fixed immediately, so suddenly that people around me were stunned. Other things he fixed more slowly, over months, over years, or not even yet (I’m not perfect!). But it was only some time later that I understood what I read in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29:
26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.
So let’s see here: I am now a Christian, which means I was called. That means, probabilistically speaking, I was probably not “wise by human standards.” I certainly wasn’t influential or of noble birth! In fact, God chose the “foolish things” to put the “wise” to shame. So if God chose me, then I must be one of those “foolish things.” Another way of saying that is that God chose the stupid and the dumb people in order to put the intelligent to shame. The purpose is that “no one may boast before him,” but this is just what I used to do, along with the self-satisfied anti-Christian intellectuals around me. What matters, of course, is v. 30: “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus.” Salvation matters; smarts don’t.
The Bible is deeply unflattering to Christians. Probably because Christians, like all other people, are messed up sinners who need to be pulled out of their mess. What we need is not flattery, but a Savior, and in the words of the Cook in Disney’s Mary Poppins, “The position ‘as been filled!” Or rather, to quote the psalmist, “Not to us, oh Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory!” (Psalm 115:1). Paul’s passage above doesn’t praise us – we don’t deserve it – but it does praise God who was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). Salvation is more eternally significant that appearing smart, and I’m very grateful that I’m dumb enough that God can choose me for his purpose!