Jesus is the Smartest Man Who Ever Lived

I have been amazed at the number of evangelicals who've this year that "moral values" have no place in considering how we engage in the political process. Aside from the fact that I don't believe they even believe that—at least, not when applied to those on the other side—it's an incredibly distressing and frustrating thing to hear. But it should be no surprise given the rate at which American evangelicals have learned to compartmentalize their "personal faith" from their vocations and public life while at the same time engaging a syncretism of their worship of God with their other objects of worship. (I talk a little more about this here.)

But we also see the effect of this compartmentalization in the way evangelicals have come to mimic the snarky "street smarts" of the conservative pundits, not all of them believers themselves. Greedy, lustful, predatory businessmen gain our support because "that's just the way the world works." "You've got to pick your poison." "The world isn't black and white." "What other choice do we have than picking the lesser of two evils?" Et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum.

Well, I call shenanigans on all that. The space-time economy of the kingdom of God is the way the world really is -- at least, it is the way the world is really meant to work under God's sovereignty, and Christians are not at liberty to pretend their true citizenship is not there when the ways of the kingdom don't seem immediately practical, convenient, gratifying, or otherwise successful. We are called to walk by faith, not by sight. And this means that Christians—assuming they really have received reborn hearts, transformed minds, and crucified flesh—trust that Jesus knows best about the way the world "really is."

Jesus was the smartest man who ever lived. We have to get that through our thick skulls if we want to make a hill of beans difference for the kingdom in this world. So often we think of Jesus as spiritual in a way disconnected from reality. Jesus is religiously idealistic, we reason, but not (as they say) “street smart.” Jesus knows how things ought to be, but he’s not so incisive on how things really are. Jesus is a good teacher, but in the popular imagination pretty much a naïve one. Dallas Willard explains:

The world has succeeded in opposing intelligence to goodness . . . And today any attempt to combine spirituality or moral purity with great intelligence causes widespread pangs of “cognitive dissonance.” Mother Teresa, no more than Jesus, is thought of as smart—nice, of course, but not really smart. “Smart” means good at managing how life “really” is . .  (The Divine Conspiracy. HarperCollins, 1998, p.135)

The reality is that Jesus knows exactly how things really are, and in fact knows how things really are better than anybody else. We may look over the ethos of the Sermon on the Mount and find the whole thing utterly impractical toward getting ahead in the world—or even toward winning elections—but one of the underlying points of the Sermon is that getting ahead in the world is a losing gambit to begin with. We come to Jesus’s teaching looking for tips on playing checkers, when all along he is playing chess.

There is good reason for this. As God, Jesus is omniscient. He knows everything. In Mark 1:22 we read, “And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” The sort of authority Jesus is wowing them with here is not the kind simply accumulated through years of study. Jesus taught with the kind of authority that suggested he had mastered the material, that he was in fact the material world’s very master. His authority comes not from education but from authorship. “He told me all that I ever did,” the Samaritan woman declares (John 4:39). Yes, sister, because he foreknew it all, declared it all, and saw it all.

It makes total sense, then—real, actual, logical sense—to believe Jesus. He is no fool who believes the man who knows everything. And he is no fool who refrains from worldly wisdom even when other Christians cannot see the advantage of it.

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A portion of this post is a slightly edited excerpt from The Storytelling God