Strength in Weakness

Paul claimed to “delight” in his weakness, for when he was weak, he said, he was strong. In Romans, he said that he “rejoiced” in his sufferings, and James echoed that in his letter. In our world, these are odd sorts of delights. No one I know likes being weak. And in fact, strength is needed. Strength is probably high on the list of everyone’s prayer list: we hear requests for strength for ourselves and each other almost every time anyone prays. “Give us strength” to do whatever is needed. We need power to live.

This morning, this weakness-strength conundrum interests me, because I think I’m in the middle of it. I am convinced that the call I’ve been given at the moment is beyond my simple ability to stand up and do this or that…preach, lead, advise, teach, inspire, administrate, etc. But as I was driving yesterday, the clear thought came to me that that was just as it should be. Any good that comes of my time working with leadership at the Northwest Church will not be good coming from my hand and my various skill sets, such as they are. The good that comes from this time will be from God, or there will be no good at all. And that is something to be glad for, and frankly, it releases me from the kind of pressure that Satan would love to have me shoulder on my own.

No, thanks.

And so, I have to say there is a certain delight in the apprehension and acceptance of my fundamental weakness and inadequacy. Because in that realization, an open door appears through which perhaps God can work. I’m reminded of how Ayn Rand would despise such a claim to weakness (having just seen a play at Daniel’s high school written by Rand, again claiming the great supremacy of the super-man who strides above the petty world where insipid morality skews lesser mortals away from true greatness and heroism), and on the face of it, if there is no God, then the strength in weakness claim is pretty silly.

But as Schaeffer said, we worship a God who is there and who is not silent.   So let weakness be a testimony, and let’s be clear: every good thing God does in this place will be His work alone.

In faith, let the weak roll up their sleeves…

3 Comments

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  1. I discovered an answer reading your entry this morning. Christians welcome the paradox teachings and deliberate contradictions of Jesus, especially the Sermon on the Mount, in order to allow God in, to overcome the impossible. Your example was, to paraphrase, ‘it really seems necessary and right to be strong from within, from character, yet Jesus teaches that there is godliness in weakness, that we should love our weakness.’

    That is a definite contradiction. But a Christian accepts the realness of the contradiction both because belief in and love for Jesus overcomes or resolves the tension and because it glorifies the power of God that he can be greater than it.

    Is that a fair assessment?

    I am asking as an outsider, not a Christian, but rather one who is thankful every day for Ayn Rand, the person who teaches that contradictions do not and cannot exist.

    John Donohue

  2. John,

    Thanks for your comments. I think a clearer articulation of the Christian take on this “contradiction” (tension) might be this: strength from within is necessary, as you say, from character. The difference is in the source of that strength and the resulting character formation. In a closed system (no god, basic materialism), the only source is within the human spirit, which is, admittedly, left to itself, full of a kind of glory, broken and imperfect though it may be. The Christian view is that the system is open, created by and impacted by an active God who moves primarily through invitation and not through coercion.

    It’s not that we “love” our weakness. We see it as reality, and its denial as illusion. That acknowledgment effectively removes a barrier to God pouring divine strength into us. There is no fundamental contradiction, at least in my view. A human being either operates under his own power, or progressively gives up that power to be replaced by a power given by God. If there’s no God, the whole notion is–of course–nonsense. However, if God is there, in a present and active sense (relationship, love, and all that), then it’s a reasonable and non-contradictory position. It is definitely counter-intuitive, though, requiring a real world faith that this God is not just a religious prop, but the very stuff of what is. The source of all -ness, if you will.

    That seems a closer assessment. Hope that helps.

    Just out of curiosity, do you watch “House?” I often think of House as a Howard Roark sort of guy, which is why we like him so much.

  3. How does our weakness glorify God? We’ve been taught most of our lives to hide our weaknesses, to “put up a good front” to the world. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for doing just that, and many today are turned away from Jesus because of the hypocrisy they see in us (they might never look any further). Jesus became of “no reputation” in order to redeem us. Confession of sin (giving up our reputation) acknowledges our need for mercy and recognition of the righteousness of God. It also allows the world to see our strength, which is God-given.

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