Saturday, May 21, 2005

Strength in Weakness

I’ve always found it somewhat difficult to understand the concept of strength in weakness. This was Jesus’ answer to St Paul’s pleadings for deliverance from his thorn in the flesh: “My power is perfected in weakness”—so the conclusion was, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2Cor. 12:9).

It is a paradox, a mystery, as we often find in divine revelation. I think that if we’re even going to begin to understand it, we have to know what weakness is not. It is not moral weakness, as if God’s power could be perfected in, say, a man’s weakness for frequenting prostitutes. (Though God's power can certainly be manifest in one's valiant struggle against the moral weakness.)

It seems to me that the human weakness that divine power works through is simply our physical, psychological, and emotional inadequacies, afflictions, and limitations. Our weakness makes us unable to rise to the occasions for which greatness is required, unable to bear the burden and heat of the day, unable to be what we think we ought to be if we wish to live as faithful servants of God.

Our weakness, though real, is not absolute. What, then, is the strength God requires of us in our weakness? One author puts it this way: “The strength [God] asks of us is the decision to trust him in all things, especially in the moments of greatest abandonment…knowing our weakness and trusting to the point of rashness in his Fatherly goodness” (Michael O’Brien, A Cry of Stone).

That’s it, I believe: the decision to trust Him. It doesn’t take a lot of strength, but it does take a significant measure of faith. God can exercise his strength in our weakness only and insofar as we trust Him to do so. We don’t know the particular form his power will take when it is manifest through our weakness. But we trust that his grace is sufficient, and so we live another day. St Paul didn’t say precisely how he experienced God’s power in his weakness, but look at the result: “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2Cor. 12:10).

It is a sublime power indeed that can make one “content” with weakness, hardship, and calamity. Decide to trust, then. There’s nothing to lose, and sufficient grace to gain.