II Corinthians 12:9-10 (NIV) contains some of the most countercultural, enigmatic scripture there is. In verses 7-8, Paul writes about a thorn in the flesh that keeps him humble. Paul prays that the thorn be removed. God denies his request saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” In today’s culture, power and weakness are antithetical.
Even though scripture speaks of God’s culture or the culture created by his Son, this business of power being made perfect in weakness is perplexing. Are we really comfortable with weakness? Aren’t we more likely to think of power when we think of perfection? But Paul says he delights in his weaknesses and concludes: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Does this means that weaknesses bring us closer to God, or that weaknesses make us realize that it’s not our own strength and power that matter, but God’s? That’s part of it, but isn’t there more to it than that? Doesn’t Paul’s puzzling declaration actually make a clear statement of the heart of Christianity?
There are parts of Jesus’ life where he seems to be strong. He heals. He casts out demons. He calms a storm. He takes on the Pharisees. He amazes and awes. But the central part of the Christian faith is his weakness. In Philippians 2:7-8, we’re told that Jesus “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” He was crucified. By giving in to this ignominious, weak ending, he became strong. He became Savior.
What Paul said about weakness and power becomes more clear by looking at what Jesus did. The substance of Christianity is becoming strong through weakness. What’s hard about it is that weakness must come first.