Sighing and exasperated, I said to Valerie, “I don’t know what to do.” This was my response after seeing my wife in weakness and feeling helpless. Prior to, and after our move to Chicago, my wife experienced a month and a half of pain, indigestion, acid reflux, migraines, and physical weakness. We went to see doctors but all they could tell us was what it was not, not what it was. Here I was, 28 years old, newly married, my wife’s health was causing her great suffering, and I couldn’t do anything about it! Why was I so disturbed by the look of sadness on my wife’s face? Because I was not in control. I was weak.
Everywhere we look today, we are told to “make an impression,” “be the best,” and “leave your mark.” Weakness is a liability. Weakness is discouraged. You can admit weakness – but if you admit weakness to your parents, in a medical school interview, or job interview, you are considered a fool! Why? Because according to J.I. Packer (above), “weakness is seen as a defect” in our society today. In his latest book “Weakness is the Way”, Packer reflects on the role weakness plays in the formation of our moral and spiritual character.
As undesirable as this weakness was to Valerie and I, it forced us to see our limitations more clearly. Our perceived strength was not as strong as we thought. In fact, It was during this weakness that our sense of God’s strength for us was stronger than it had been when we were perfectly healthy. The stripping away of our sense of self-sufficiency forced us to see ultimate strength as not something in us, but outside of us to be relied upon.
Weakness exposes our limitations. It paves the way for us to see our need for him who has no limits. Put another way, weakness is the way to God.
When we feel sufficient in our own wisdom, riches, or power, we have no need for God because we don’t see any need for him. Sigmund Freud is well known for his critiques of belief in God. To Freud, belief in God itself is a weakness, a psychological invention, a crutch we lean on to try and cope with the “crushingly superior force of nature.”* But if God has created us to see our limits and weaknesses as signposts to point us to him for the strength and satisfaction we need most, then responding to his design is wise rather than a sign of weakness. When the things we base our lives upon let us down, we are forced to pause, reflect, and consider how strong these things were in the first place. We come to see them for what they truly are.
One time I was having a conversation with a man at the Salvation Army who was on rehab and trying to get off the street. Upon him realizing I was not living at the Salvation Army, he asked me “Oh, so you’re not addicted to anything?” I couldn’t help but laugh because the irony of his question cut to my soul. It exposed my exterior of “put-togetherness” that I like to convince myself of when I am really not. My addiction to image management and the need to feel in control meant that I was no different than him. His words revealed that I also need healing.
There is a Great Physician who has come to bring us healing. While having everything, he came to use his power to help those who knew themselves to be weak and in need of healing. He said, “I did not come for the righteous (those who thought they were self-sufficient) but for sinners (those who know they are not self-sufficient).” He took our weakness upon himself, so we could receive his strength. He brings life to the dead and gives hope of eternal life to those who follow him. He referred to himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, that “no one comes to the Father except through Me.”
No amount of our moral goodness, power, or wisdom impresses him. The only patients he takes are those who acknowledge their weakness and rely on him for their strength. This physician lives and his name is Jesus. In acknowledging our weakness, we discover the way to God. In acknowledging our weakness, we discover Jesus.
*Freud, Sigmund (1961) , Strachey, James, ed., The future of an illusion, Norton, Pg. 21.