Paradoxes: Strength and Weakness
Scripture is full of odd paradoxes. Jesus says that he who wants to save his life must lose it. The Beattitudes are nearly a litany of paradoxes of various sorts. Paul asserts that God uses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and he also talked about his own personal discovery that when he is weak, then he is strong. It is this last one that I was pondering this week.
In a culture that prizes independence, strength tends to be a necessity. Of course, even in looking at other, more interdependent cultures such as the Japanese, strength is still valued. A certain stoic demeanor is expected. That stoicism is often expected in the States as well, though of a different sort. Fear is not acceptable. Failure isn’t okay. Being called mousy is no compliment.
The issue of paradox comes in when one considers what the strongest act might be. Counter-intuitively, I think the strongest thing one can do may be to be weak.
Who is the stronger man: the one who smites his foes or the one who is willingly beaten down by them and then turns to walk away, perhaps even still bearing the strength to yet turn on them? Who has more courage: the one who refuses to move or the one who allows forces to take him to places he does not know?
Why does the tyrant crush his subjects? Is he not strong enough to resist them rising up?
Why does the stoic refuse to move? Will the shame of feeling destroy her?
Who is stronger than God? And yet His strength led Him to give Himself in weakness, to be vulnerable and frail, to even be humiliated and maimed. If He weren’t this strong, He would not have been able to bear such things, but it is because of His strength that He was able to be weak.
This is part of our calling as disciples and followers of Jesus. The greatest strength will only be manifested in the capacity to be weak. That is where we are strong, those places where we willingly give up our control to be moved where we fear or do not know. We are strong when we open up to the things that we fear and allow them to affect us.
It is also in weakness that we can be changed. And in the right circumstances, being changed can mean becoming stronger. That is can also be where we may be made less strong is reason for caution, of course. God did not ask us to throw ourselves to the wolves at every opportunity to demonstrate our strength. But, apart from a willingness to be weak, how hard it is to be made stronger!