Wednesday, March 23, 2011


One of the things I thought about a great deal while I was at CLBI was the way we think about strength and weakness. I believe we have this quite backward as compared to God's perspective.

Honestly, wouldn't you rather be strong than weak? Wouldn't you rather be talented than not? Wouldn't you rather be whole than broken?

I think nearly any human would rather be strong than weak. We enjoy competence and skill. We admire, even worship, people who are "at the top of their game". When something gets in the way of our capabilities and our competencies, we are frustrated. (Think of the last time a cold tired you out, for instance, or kept you from being at your best.) Much of our medical industry -- certainly much of our pharmaceutical industry -- has developed to provide us at least the illusion of strength, to keep us from being held back by our weakness. Muscles sore? Buy an ointment. Nose stuffed up? Choose from dozens of remedies. Throat scratchy? Again, dozens of drops, lozenges, pills, or syrups can help take away your symptoms. Note that in many cases, that's exactly what we're doing -- we're treating symptoms, not the real disease. I've heard it said that with colds, the average untreated cold lasts about a week or a week and a half. If, however, you get lots of rest, drink lots of fluids, and take cold medications, it will go away in only 7-10 days.

We treat symptoms because we don't like our weakness. We don't like feeling like we can't breathe well, like we're dragged down and tired, like we can't speak without feeling like we have flax straw in our throats. I understand that.

What strikes me, though, is that the Bible talks very differently about weakness. The most famous example, certainly, is in 2 Corinthians 12 where Paul struggles with a "thorn in the flesh." Paul says he prayed three times that God would take it away. (This is Paul, who often healed others and even raised people from the dead!) But God said to Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you; for my power is made perfect in weakness."

Is this the way we approach our own weakness? Do we really expect to see God's power made perfect when we are less capable, less competent, more broken, more frustrated? Of course not. We think that God needs our help, and so we should be strong and God should appreciate what we can do for him. (We may not think aloud in this way, but this is the way we so often act!) It is a rare individual who figures out this puzzle of weakness. It is the person facing terminal cancer, or the person with the chronic illness, who gains a strange sort of peace as they sit for hours contemplating their own weakness. They come to know the strength of God in a new and wonderful way. You and I, leaving their sick room, marvel at their spiritual strength, but we do not seek to be like them. We go back to our busy schedules and the illusion that God does his best work when we are at our best.

One wonders how we have become so confused. Could it be that we are still trying to live out what the serpent told Eve -- "Go ahead, you can be like God!"?

We even build grand Christian theologies of success that reassure us that God is really about us being strong. God wants you to be successful, we say. Or God wants you to be healthy, or God wants you to prosper. How many people have converted to Christianity, only to find that honestly following Jesus wasn't the pleasant walk in the park that they had heard?

I don't like being sick any more than you do. But I begin to think more and more that we would do well to rejoice (as Paul recommends) when we come up against something we cannot do, something that brings us face to face with our own weakness. We might find that there is a great truth here worth learning, and in fact that until we are weak, we cannot know God's strength.

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