“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
Survival of the Fittest
The world’s conception of weakness is based off of Darwinian concepts of “survival of the fittest”. Weakness is just that…weak. It is not something to share with others. It is not something to boast about. It is a secret that should remain locked up in the deepest recesses of our heart, guarded with the utmost security in protection of being found out by others and becoming a target for the strong like a wounded animal among the herd that limps and drifts behind, easy to pick off and devour.
It is the strong that survive, that thrive in society, or at least that’s what the world wishes us to believe. Sure, the world may pretend to have sympathy when a co-worker finds out that their spouse has been cheating on them, finds out that they have a crippling disease, or their children have gotten into trouble at school. But the world is quick to throw judgments on people. They may have a glimpse of sympathy, but that sympathy often comes from determining that they are stronger than the sufferer, that weakness is caused on some level by their own actions.
The co-worker whose spouse cheated on them was obviously not taking care of their spouse sexually, obviously deficient in some way, or else their spouse would never have felt the need to look elsewhere for satisfaction. There is some implicit judgement that says, “yes, I’m sorry that happened to you, but it hasn’t happened to me because I am stronger, better than you. My spouse would have been satisfied with me if I was in your place.” The co-worker who is diagnosed with a crippling disease is seen as partly to blame. “Well, it’s no wonder. Have you seen the way she eats? Maybe this will teach her to take care of herself.” And the co-worker that has a problem child is obviously doing something wrong. “My children would never think about doing anything like that. I don’t know where they learned it. I pity her for having to deal with such a rotten child.” If we’re truly honest, the world’s sympathy most of the time does not come because it actually relates to weakness, but because it pities the weakness; the world likes the drama because other peoples’ weaknesses makes them feel stronger.
The Great Secret
And in some unspoken way, we all know this. We know that others are judging us for our weaknesses. So we paint a smile on our faces and pretend that all is well because it’s better to play the part of someone who’s strong than play ourselves, who we know to be weak. We are ashamed of that person, embarrassed, and go through our days praying that we never get found out. But the reality is that we are all weak at the core. We all have strengths and weaknesses. There is no such thing as the strong and the weak, but the broken and more broken.
The Day Darwin Died
The Darwinian concept of strength is shattered in the light of the cross, radiating and piercing nature’s laws. For Christ did not conquer with strength. He did not conquer with sword and shield, but with truth and love. On the cross we see the greatest warrior the world has ever known. On the cross we find the greatest activist of change the world will ever know. But in the world’s eyes, he is weak, for he humbled himself and allowed himself to become nothing, he surrendered without guns blazing and offered the “strong” a free sacrifice without fighting.
And if the story ended there, it would appear that Darwin’s theory rings true. But three days later a stone was rolled back and the Son of man reemerged stronger and more powerful than ever before. His submission is our hope and the spark that changed the world.
Healing Through Weakness
This is why Paul claims he can “boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses”. He knows that what Christ achieved on the cross is sufficient and no weakness of his flesh will keep him from the love of God. Not only that, but by being open with our weaknesses it invites others to be open with theirs. A healing and acceptance begins to take place that would never be achieved in “strength”.
It is also important to note Paul’s use of the word “thorn”. One of the hardest things to accept about weaknesses, especially when they are painful, is why a loving God allows them to happen. If God loves me, why does he allow me to suffer? This is a question that I have pondered over many hours, and I believe the answer is in the text.
A Pain That Keeps Us Humble
“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.”
Here Paul touches on the idea that God uses weakness to keep us humbled. We don’t like to admit it, but humans rarely ever come to God with simply an honest desire to serve and love him. It is almost always, at least initially, because we are hurting or need something. If everything in our lives were 100% perfect and there was nothing that we needed outside ourselves, would we honestly seek out God? I don’t think so. I know I at least wouldn’t. Weakness is a “thorn” that ensures that we rely on God like a infant relies on a mother. It is the foundation on which we know we do not have all the answers and must submit to one who is stronger than us.
Grace Abounds in Our Weaknesses
The most beautiful thing about how God deals with our weaknesses is through grace. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. When we submit our weaknesses to the Lord, they no longer become weaknesses, but strengths. God’s love abounds in the weakest areas of our lives. When we open our hearts to God and admit that we are in need of a savior, his love takes our weaknesses and transcends them. It does not mean that he will remove them, but no longer are they a weakness in the same sense of the word. These weaknesses allow us to relate and understand the human condition all the more and boast in God’s mercy and love. We become resurrected with Christ. We may still show the imprints of the nails on our hands and the wound in our side, but they are no longer injuries, but scars that have healed. We no longer have to hide in shame, but can shout from the mountaintops, “Our God saves”.
What secrets in the deep recesses of your heart are you holding back in shame from the world? Are you going through your days worried of being “found out”? Bring your weaknesses to the cross. Crucify them and allow God to resurrect you with his grace and allow your story to become a example of God’s love and mercy.
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photo credit: oh the shame, the shame via photopin (license)