This verse is an excellent example of how certain elements of the Bible are not meant to be taken literally. St. Paul is using metaphorical language to convey the paradox of the Cross.
It is crucial to look at the broader context of this verse in order to correctly deduce what St Paul is teaching.
Notice the connection between verse 25 and verses 18-21:
The message of the cross is foolishness 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 learning of
the learned I will set aside.”
Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of
this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since
in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through
wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the
proclamation to save those who have faith. (1 Cor. 1:18-21)
St. Paul is catechizing the young Corinthian church in order to prepare them to effectively evangelize the pagan Greeks. We read in Acts Chapter 17 that St. Paul had addressed the Athenians at the Areopagus who were worshiping an “unknown God. “ The Greek philosophers of St. Paul’s day were very proud of their level of philosophical logic and reasoning, and were considered to be extremely “wise.”
One of the most effective ways to evangelize is to meet people where they are and lead them to where they need to be, which is Christ. St. Paul knew this, and was good at it. He was writing to the Corinthians in order to prepare them to go out and evangelize Corinth and the surrounding area. He was teaching that the Greeks would initially perceive the paradox of the Cross as at best foolishness, and at worst insanity.
The paradox of the Cross is, that in the eyes of the world, Christ's crucifixion symbolizes impotence and absurdity. Why would an omnipotent God allow himself to be brutally beaten and nailed to the worst torture device that was ever invented by the Romans? To the “wisest” of Greek philosophers this God would be absolutely foolish to do so. Perhaps the Greeks in Corinth would say about Christians, “These Christians are fools to believe in a defeated God – a God that couldn't even save himself from being crucified!” These insults were hurled at Jesus as he hung suffering on the Cross.
But the Corinthian Christians knew, as we do today, that when they received the Holy Spirit their entire world view was divinely changed. The worldly scales had been removed from their eyes, whether they were rich, poor, educated, or uneducated. They were infused with heavenly wisdom that only comes from above. This wisdom of Christianity inspires us to believe that perfect love empties itself completely in order to save.
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love (1 John
The wisdom granted by the Holy Spirit allows us to perceive an all loving God, one who is love, bleeding to death as the “Sacrificial Lamb" for the expiation of our sins.
All wisdom comes from the Lord and is with him for ever (Sirach 1:1)
What St. Paul is metaphorically saying to the Corinthians, which still applies to our skeptical society today, is that from the outside looking in, Christianity is a paradox by nature. It is only from the inside looking out that a person sees the magnificent beauty of a Cathedral’s stained glass window.
St. Paul’s God might have initially seemed to be foolish and eccentric to the Greek philosophers’ listening at Areopagus. The 12 apostles chosen by Jesus to establish a Church and to evangelize the world were simple, uneducated, and obscure men. Their God (which is obviously the same God as St. Paul’s) might have initially seemed to be foolish and eccentric to the Jews and Gentiles at Pentecost. But in reality God’s “foolish” chosen ones were wiser than the world’s “wisest.
As stated above, St. Paul is not saying that God is foolish, but is metaphorically teaching that worldly wisdom is infinitely inferior to the wisdom of God. This verse should not be interpreted as literal.
St. John Chrysostom once preached a homily centered on this verse:
All these things, therefore, Paul bearing in mind, and being struck
with astonishment, said that the foolishness of God is wiser than men,
and the weakness of God is stronger than men; in relation to the
Cross, speaking of a folly and weakness, not real but apparent. For he
is answering with respect unto the other party's opinion. For that
which philosophers were not able by means of reasoning to accomplish,
this, what seemed to be foolishness did excellently well. Which then
is the wiser, he that persuades the many, or he that persuades few, or
rather no one? He who persuades concerning the greatest points, or
about matters which are nothing? (μηδὲν όντων Reg. ms. μη δεόντων
Bened.) What great labors did Plato endure, and his followers,
discoursing to us about a line, and an angle, and a point, and about
numbers even and odd, and equal unto one another and unequal, and
such-like spiderwebs; (for indeed those webs are not more useless to
man's life than were these subjects;) and without doing good to any
one great or small by their means, so he made an end of his life. How
greatly did he labor, endeavoring to show that the soul was immortal!
See Homily 4 on First Corinthians
St. Thomas Aquinas weighed in on this subject roughly 1000 years later:
Then when he says, for the foolishness of God, he assigns the reason
for what he had said and tells how something weak and foolish could be
the power and wisdom of God, because the foolishness of God is wiser
than men. As if to say: Something divine seems to be foolish, not
because it lacks wisdom but because it transcends human wisdom. For
men are wont to regard as foolish anything beyond their understanding:
“Matters too great for human understanding have been shown you (Sir
3:23). And the weakness of God is stronger than men, because something
in God is not called weak on account of a lack of strength but because
it exceeds human power, just as He is called invisible, inasmuch as He
transcends human sight: “Thou dost show thy strength when men doubt
the completeness of thy power” (Wis 12:17). However, this could refer
to the mystery of the incarnation, because that which is regarded as
foolish and weak in God on the part of the nature He assumed
transcends all wisdom and power: “Who is like to you among the strong,
O Lord?” (Ex 15:11).
See Commentary On the First Epistle to the Corinthians
Better is one day in God’s court than thousands elsewhere.