“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him — these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit;
for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.”
What was going through Paul’s mind when he wrote these awesome words? He had just been discussing the inadequacy of “human wisdom” to uncover the deepest truths about God and his universe (verse 1 through 8). His message which had brought spiritual life to the believers of Corinth had been a simple story about Jesus Christ dying on a cross. It was not expressed “in lofty words of wisdom,” but packaged as a puzzling “mystery.” And yet, Paul knew that the “mystery” revealed an even higher wisdom, “God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.” The “rulers of this age” did not understand this, and that’s why they “crucified the Lord of glory.”
Paul was reflecting some memorable poetic phrases written by the Prophet Isaiah centuries earlier,
“From ages past no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who works for those who wait for him.”
Isaiah seemed to have had the same intuition Paul was now experiencing, that the true meaning of human life and of the universe itself could never be comprehended by a person’s senses alone, and yet, the deeper wisdom could be accessed mysteriously by those who were ready for a life-changing encounter with the one and only God.
Paul was trained as a rabbi, having received a first-class Jewish education at the feet of learned scholars. But he also grew up in the cosmopolitan city of Tarsus, in what is now Turkey. Tarsus was known in Paul’s day for having a fine harbor and a first-class university. A notable list of Greek and Roman philosophers, mathematicians and poets lived and taught there. Since Paul made several allusions in his letters to the great intellectual writers of his day, he probably became familiar with this strain of “human wisdom” at Tarsus University in his youth, maybe even taking courses there. So it’s possible that, as he wrote the words of 1 Corinthians 2, Paul had images of a debate between Aristotelian and Platonic philosophers over the nature of reality and the purpose of the universe. He was pointing out that ultimate truth can’t be perceived even through the sharp eyes and ears of the greatest thinkers, like Aristotle and Plato, nor mentally reconstructed in their amazing minds.
We’ve come a long way from the noble Greek philosophers, from the great Hebrew prophets; and from Paul himself, who struggled to find words to express the “mystery” God had asked him to communicate. In the centuries since, scientists have pushed our minds to the edge of the universe, to the interactions between space and time, and to sub-atomic considerations of the quanta and/or waves which scientists talk about in an attempt to define the primal substance of all things. Math and science teachers used to tell us confidently that the real world is three-dimensional; we thought our minds were being stretched when some scientists talked about time as a fourth dimension. Today quantum theorists argue that there must be anywhere from ten to thirty-three dimensions at the base of reality.*
Paul wrote about what we can experience with our eyes and our ears, together with what we can “conceive” in our heart (mind). He listed two of the five senses by which we encounter our environment. Modern psychological and physiological study has subdivided the sense of touch into at least four (heat/cold, pain, itching, pressure) and has cataloged other senses that have to be acknowledged (hunger, thirst, balance, internal coordination between organs). Maybe, as we discover more dimensions in nature, we need more senses to perceive them.
Of course, many religions, as well as lots of front-porch philosophers, have been telling us that many humans have some kind of “sixth sense” — ESP, premonition, awareness of presences (angels, ghosts, etc.). Paul returns from thinking about all the sum total of human wisdom to a simple affirmation that God communicates to each of us directly through his Spirit: “For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.” This is more than just a “sixth sense”; this is the promise of a personal guide from God, leading us to the level of understanding we’re ready to experience. Paul was confident that whatever amazing human discoveries may be around the corner, God’s own Spirit will be there as well to help believers to understand this as a new manifestation of “the depths of God.”
* We are proud to learn that our own Joseph Viola IV has been appointed as an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the University of Nantes, France. Joe’s special studies have been in a field called the “pseudospectrum of pseudo-differential operators,” which is designed to help scientists calculate how things may work in these sub-atomic dimensions. Go Joe!
— Pastor George Van Alstine