In many locations around the world, that's a literal bang that's heard. Earlier this month, dozens of Christians in Egypt were killed by bombings which seem to be part of an escalation of persecution around the world. Today news from Egypt has been virtually cut off, as protests have escalated and the citizens of the African nation take to the streets in hopes that their government can be transformed. The protests are spreading like wildfire into neighboring nations like Yemen as well. (Read today's WSJ article on the spread of unrest)
Though there's fear of a radical islamist takeover, most political experts believe there's a good chance that a democratic transformation could take place. A month ago such protests seemed absurd, but with the overthrow of Tunisia's government following a popular uprising, it seems that the climate for change in northern Africa has arrived. Of course, there's no way of knowing how all of this will play out or what it will mean for the millions of Coptic Christians in Egypt who long for an end to persecution and a day of greater religious freedom.
I'm not certain this has much to do with our passage this week (1 Corinthians 1:18-31) or what the sermon is about - "Blessed Foolishness" (ie how the good news about Jesus is seen as foolishness in the world). But at some level I think world events and this week's passage are connected. There's an enduring human hope that things in this world can be different, that justice will arrive, that people and nations can be free. With human systems alone, those hopes are surely foolishness. All the "wisdom of the wise" (vs 19) is foolishness to God. And yet, with God all things are possible - which, ironically, seems like foolishness to "those who are perishing," as Paul says.
Does that mean that we should just sit back and gleefully hope the world goes down the tubes, cheering on the deterioration until at last, when there's no glimmer of hope left, we expect Christ to appear and rescue us all?
God's people, from the time of Abraham until now, have never been called to such fatalism - nor have we ever been "raptured" away from calamity (the Left Behind books were, after all, fiction). Abraham prayed for his loved ones in Sodom, Jonah labored through the flood, Moses brought his people through slavery and through the Red Sea, Joshua lead people through battles into a new land, the prophets taught them how to endure in times of persecution, telling them that one day "these bones will live" (Ezekiel 37). Early Christians suffered persecution but spread and grew because of it. Jesus went to the cross - he endured its shameful death - the ultimate foolish sign of God's great love which redeems and rescues us. In the wisdom of God, there has always been a day of resurrection and renewal - but it always comes after, or through, suffering and pain.
We would be foolish to believe that human systems will change, for the better, through human wisdom alone. The little-remembered fact of the sinful nature teaches us otherwise. But we be even more foolish to think that God is not, somehow, working all things together for his good purposes - and that in his seemingly foolish wisdom he is at work in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Iraq, China - everywhere in our world, with us, to bring about his purposes - and eventually to redeem the world. This is our foolish hope: