Top 10 Things I Learned in Seminary [#5]

Weakness is strength.

Doesn’t sound right, does it?

We live in a culture that exalts power. We may dream of influential positions in global corporations or long for a bigger voice in our local community. We Americans, of all people, delight in the possibilities that exist in the individual.

At the beginning of the 20th century, rags-to-riches novels impressed on the culture a sense of dramatic optimism. Suddenly it seemed as if anyone with the will power could rise through the ranks in commerce or industry and command armies of workers.

As history tells, this is not the case for everyone. Opportunity exists to gain power and influence, but acquiring it is difficult.

Within all this, God sees weakness differently. He sees it as strength.

If one reads any of the New Testament accounts of the death of Jesus, it is apparent that he was not exalted by his own power. Instead, God the Father gave him strength through the Spirit. John 16:5-16 describes the closeness of the three. Verse 15 reads: “All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”

After three days, God glorifies Jesus, raising him from the dead. The first book after the four Gospel accounts is Acts, and at the very beginning of this book Jesus is witnessed ascending into heaven.

Weakness is strength.

Just like Jesus, we are strong when we are weak. When we lean into the grace of God, we find ourselves giving him glory.

Paul, one of the most committed early followers of Jesus, explains how this works in a letter, 2 Corinthians 12. God explains to Paul that, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

When Paul attempted to do things in his own strength, it did not bring God honor. It probably didn’t bring Paul that much honor either. Instead, glorifying himself likely just made other people irritated. The same principle goes for all of us.

God is interested in doing incredible things [just look at the miracles of Jesus and of the Old Testament that preceded him!]. God also wants people to know him.

Let’s put this into contemporary context. It’s meaningful when people serve other people. Right? It’s so cool to see businesses and churches and individuals serving the common good. Now here’s where the weakness/strength paradigm is vital. For the person or church or business who does something meaningful, that can inflate the ego. Very easily can doing good cause us to think we’re ok.

But when we do good through weakness, there is only one option for others to believe: God is at work.

The natural world understands this concept. Annie Dillard talks about this in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. The fecundity of nature, she says, is indomitable. A farmer somewhere thought squash were especially powerful, and he used a scale to test how much pressure these seemingly insignificant and feeble vegetables could exert. They pushed the scales to the thousands of pounds as they slowly grew, cell by cell, fueled by the growth of God. Weakness is strength.

In the human world, when someone is unexpectedly kind, it’s striking. When someone really seems to have the right to be vengeful and maintains tranquility, it’s noticeable. When a family loses one of their own to violence then responds with forgiveness, it speaks. It spoke in October 2006 in the wake of the Lancaster County shootings. A man brutally killed 10 young girls in a one room Amish school. The response from the Amish, even amidst their mourning, was forgiveness. Leaning into the strength of God, they never said it was ok or justifiable, but they forgave. Ironically, the man who killed the girls couldn’t forgive someone for having killed his own daughter.

God’s world is different. In God’s world, weakness is strength.