Justice Antonin Scalia’s coffin is now in the grave. To many, the grave means the cessation of existence. To the Christian, it means that the redeemed await a future resurrection. Non-existence versus eternal glory. Those are polar opposites—antitheses.
In the aftermath of his death, I find myself returning to this widely shared quote that Justice Scalia penned:
God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools…and He has not been disappointed. Devout Christians are destined to be regarded as fools in modern society. We are fools for Christ’s sake. We must pray for courage to endure the scorn of the sophisticated world. If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.
“Have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.” What a beautiful line; and a line that needs seared on every Christian’s brain, especially my own.
Christians in America, by the simple fact of our history and geography, are going to have a hard time understanding this. I know I do. In all our pretense to be accepted; and in all our self-assurance that we’re just as much alike the educated elites from whom we secretly and hungrily crave acceptance and celebration, Scalia’s words remind us that Christians can never, by definition, find perfect welcome in any homeland. We can never cozy too comfortably with the powerful, the sophisticated, and the beautiful people lest we empty the cross of its power. We are fools. We are fools. Yes, we want the sophisticated and the powerful to bend their knee to Christ, but not at the expense of sacrificing what is essential to our faith: That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3-4).
While America has been blessed by its Christian moral legacy, American Christians run the risks of believing that our beliefs are standard, the default—the privileged position. I can’t square that with the irony of New Testament Christianity. The New Testament tells of a Christianity whose despisers are brought low while the persecuted inherit the Kingdom. Now, I should add a caveat: I want Christianity to influence culture as much as anyone. I want families intact. I love that the explosion of Christianity led to a revolution in human dignity; in hospitals and university. I want a renaissance of high culture that produces aesthetic wonders emanating from Christianity. But if influence reduces merely to terms of human flourishing and the Common Good, we are not preaching the gospel. A flourishing culture that likes the trappings and benefits of Christianity, but not its kernel, isn’t biblical Christianity. A true gospel will be met with resistance because it overturns the accepted patterns of the world. New Testament Christianity assumes that a follower of Christ is well acquainted with scorn (2 Tim. 3:12).
I don’t know if I believe that sufficiently in my own life. I’m trying to. I’m trying to understand that fidelity to Christ ought to mean some level of estrangement.
It is very common for evangelical Christians to playfully mock Mormons for the absurdity and origins of LDS doctrine. While I share the firm conviction that Mormon theology is neither Christian or orthodox, I’ve never engaged in mocking it. Why? Because the beliefs that we Christians find so odd and bizarre about Mormonism can equally be the same response that non-Christians have to the beliefs of orthodox Christianity. We believe a dead man came back to life. We believe that one man’s actions atoned for the sins of the world. We believe that a Middle Eastern nomad and insurrectionist is going to judge the world and claim everything as His rightful inheritance. Brothers and sisters, that is strange. To those who reject Christ and are perishing, it is utter foolishness. When we lose the strangeness of our beliefs, the label “fool” becomes not a badge of Christian honor, but a term of derision that we flee from trying to convince others that, despite our beliefs, we’re just like everyone else.
Scalia’s words, then, echo the Apostle Paul:
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Cor. 1:18-25)
May we all learn to be fools for Christ. Rejoice in your foolishness.