The Strengthening Weakness of Love

As Christians, we sometimes forget what Christ really brought – what He really brings – into this world. We find it easy to place our message on a bumper sticker, or to put it on a t-shirt, or to make a really cool song out of it. It’s easy to sign a petition or pass a piece of legislation, but we have to ask ourselves, “Is this what Christ really came for?”

Would Christ go to the Republican National Convention? Would He partake in the march against homosexual marriage? Would Jesus really Occupy Wall Street? Would He mock the Republican candidates, or call Obama a Nazi? If we easily see Christ doing any of these things, we must ask ourselves if we are worshiping a Christ of our own invention; if we cannot see Christ doing these things, we must ask why we choose to do so in His stead.

God is omnipotent and powerful, there is no denying that; but out of His love to us He is weak. It is in this weakness that He is ultimately, eternally, and infinitely strong. Love makes one weak because by its very nature it requires sacrifice and self-giving. In the mere act of creation we see God’s weakness displaying His strength. With the mere mention of creation, He brings it about, yet the act itself is one of sacrifice. Here we see His strength in creation, but His weakness in sacrifice.

On the cross we see the strength of God crushing sin of death, but this strength is only seen due to the weakness of His love, His willingness to die on our behalf that He might remove death from our nature.

I am not trying to say that God is not omnipotent – far from it – but instead drawing light to the fact that within the bounds of love the world could turn upside down; what is strong could be weak and what is weak could be strong. In a strong world, in the world of the Übermensch (Nietzsche’s “Superman”), the one who is able to enforce his will on others is the strong one. In a weak world, the one Christ displayed to us, the greater the servant, the more power he has. This is quite the paradox, that the weaker we act, the stronger we really are. Such is the mystery of God’s love.

Where does this leave us Christians in the 21st century? Should we continue to make power plays for political offices? Should we continue to push “our guy” to take charge of the nation? Should we pray for the day that we control the schools, the government, and make this a “Christian nation” once again (or for the first time)? Is this really what the strengthening weakness of love looks like?

Perhaps we as Christians need to reconsider what it is to have strength. Perhaps we need to realize that strength is found in weakness. Hope is not found in acquiring a political goal, but in the self-emptying act of service towards those who cannot repay us.

The love of God is weak enough to cause God to stoop down to become a man. It is weak enough to grab that girl who suffers from life. It is weak enough to cause our all-powerful God to serve humans (for what is love if not service?). The love of God is weak enough to look at the young man intent on a life of self-destruction and long for the young man to turn around to his original purpose, which is Christ. The love of God is weak enough to wander through the hospital wards soothing the broken bodies, sacrificing for the sick, and giving grace to those who can no longer continue.

The love of God is weak enough to take the almighty Eternal and place Him within the womb of the Theotokos. The love of God is weak enough to cause the Eternal to walk where we walk, to experience the pain that numerous victims worldwide have experienced. The love of God is weak enough to cause Christ to give His life that we might have life. But the love of God is strong enough to ensure that all of this has an actual, eternal effect.

The love of God is strong enough to grab the girl who suffers from life and give her a new life. It is strong enough to draw humans to love God as well and serve Him (for what is love if not service?). The love of God is strong enough to look at the vapid young man and convict him of his ways; it is strong enough to turn the young man from death to life. The love of God is strong enough to wander through hospital wards proclaiming that He is the ultimate healer, that in His love all will be made whole someday.

The love of God is strong enough to shape and save our nature through His glorious Incarnation.  The love of God is strong enough to cause us to walk where the Eternal has walked and is walking. The love of God is strong enough to cause Christ to raise from the dead that we might have life.

If God’s love displays His eternal strength through weakness, then what should this say of us mere Christians? Shall we continue to pursue the power on display in the world? Certainly there is nothing wrong with standing up for justice in the public square, but should this be our primary vehicle for displaying God’s love?

Christ came down as a king, but never claimed the seat of Rome. He came down as a ruler, but to a kingdom without a border. Christ came down as the Lawgiver, yet made no declarations or decrees for the nations to follow. If we become a people who seek after kingships, after controlling borders, after laws then we have forgotten what Christ accomplished.

The millions of humans who are abducted into slavery every day don’t need another Christian song or another tract; they desperately need the love of God to rescue them from their plight and restore their humanity. The millions of homeless people don’t need another sermon on how they’re worthless or how trusting in God will make things better; they need food, they need shelter, they need help (even if they’re crazy, this doesn’t make them not human; all are fallen from God, so all are crazy in degrees, the man who mumbles to himself is only slightly crazier than you). Those who are hurting, lost, in despair, wondering about the next paycheck, suffering from abuse, don’t need another law, another rally, another city to occupy, another mega-church, another politician to save us all; they need only Christ, they need His love, they need His followers to cease seeking after the worldly idea of power and instead become weak that they might truly become strong.

In short, the world doesn’t need more Christians attempting to live up to the standards of their culture; it needs more Christians attempting to live up to the standards of Christ. The world needs people who display their strength in their weakness, and this is only possible through Divine love.

Mystic Mondays: Be Separate, and Therefore Close

John 17:2 shows that all flesh has come under the authority of Jesus Christ and John 17:23 says that the world shall know who the Father is through the oneness of the disciples. Yet, in the same passage in John 17:9, Jesus says that He prays for His followers and not the world. We see a paradox developing where apparently we are to draw away from the world, but in doing so we grow closer to the world. Consider that earlier in the gospel of John, we’re told that God loves the world (John 3:16). But later in one of John’s epistles he tells us not to love the world or anything in the world (1 John 2:15-17). Paul takes the idea of separation further in 2 Corinthians 6:17, telling us to be separate. James 4:4 says that to be a friend of the world is to be an enemy of God. And yet, despite all these warnings, Jesus tells us to go into all of the world (Matthew 28:16-20), to take care of the poor (Matthew 19:21), and even the example of Jesus was one who was always around the “world” (Luke 7:34). What are we to make of this paradox? We see two seemingly contradictory aspects; be separate from the world and be within the world.

Some Christians desire to eradicate the paradox and argue for minimal involvement with the world, only when it becomes necessary. Their ethic becomes legalistic, they live in Christian bubbles, and they pursue holiness. One can think of the Amish who choose to live in seclusion to the rest of the world. Yet, many other Christians can become a type of Amish. They only have Christian friends. They only read Christian books. They only watch Christian television. They only deal with Christians. That they have made “Christian” an adjective for inanimate objects shows that they have bought into the idea that some objects are inherently evil and only sanctified objects are worthy of Christian notice.

Some of these Christians neglect the poor, walk past the suffering on the streets, and look down their noses at sinners. They do this because they recognize that such people are not holy. If only these people would come to Christ, then we could help them! They have become a type of Pharisee (haven’t we all?).

Other Christians will eradicate the paradox in a different way by arguing for unity with the world. They being to reinterpret the Christian message for modern times. They adopt the philosophy and ethics of the world. They view Christianity as something that must change within every culture. It’s not that people are sinners, it’s that “sin” is just an outdated way to look at the world; “sin” is a judgmental term, one that overpowers the idea of grace.

They will often tell us how it’s important to feed the poor and help the widows, but that matters of doctrine can wait or don’t matter (unless, of course, the doctrine is a conservative doctrine; then it matters and should be argued against). They may say that doctrine does matter, but that actions should come first.

Both views are wrong. Both views erase the paradox of the Christian life; one view tries to elevate believing above acting and the other tries to elevate acting above believing. In the process, the whole of the Christian life is fractured.

We believe, but if we believe we will act on that belief. We act within the world, but it is our beliefs that guide us and give us the reason that we should act. Neither is more important than the other. How can we say we believe if we do not act on our belief? How can we tell people how to live if we believe nothing? And so the idea of “faith vs works” or “doctrine vs action” is a false dichotomy as the two are not in tension with each other, but instead are in unison with one another.

This is the paradox of the Christian life, that we are saved by faith, by believing, but that actions must accompany the belief, or how can we say we believe? The Christian life is not just found in books, nor is it found in just serving the poor; it is found in both and needed in both.

Mystic Mondays – The Centrality of Faith (St. Irenaeus of Lyons)

“Mystic Mondays” is a series done here at the Christian Watershed in the hopes of keeping us grounded. While we support the rational defense of the faith, we must ultimately concede that our faith is beyond reason; Christianity contains reason, but reason doesn’t contain Christianity. This is because our foundation is not in a system, but in a Person. 

From On Apostolic Preaching:

St. Irenaeus of Lyons

“Therefore, lest we suffer any such thing, we must keep the rule of faith unswervingly, and perform the commandments of God, believing in God and fearing Him, for He is Lord, and loving Him, for He is Father. Action, then, comes by faith, as ‘if you do not believe,’ Isaias says, ‘you will not understand’; and truth brings about faith, for faith is established upon things truly real, that we may believe what really is, as it is, and believing what really is, as it is, we may always keep our conviction of it firm. Since, then, the conserver of our salvation is faith, it is necessary to take great care of it, that we may have a true comprehension of what is.”

It seems that one of the central debates for Christians today is whether we should believe like Christians or live like Christians. One side is adamant that our beliefs are what save us while the other side argues that our works save us, while beliefs don’t really matter (or at least don’t hold that much importance).

For early Christians the distinction between believing and actions simply didn’t exist. To have “faith” meant that we believed what had been handed down to us and then lived according to those beliefs. As Irenaeus elucidates, action comes from faith and faith is established on things that are real. Our faith is in God, who is real, so then we should act on this belief.

We shouldn’t have a dichotomy between how we live and what we believe. Turning to the highly respected 20th century theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, we read,

“And when we exalt orthopraxy, right action, which is demanded clearly enough by Jesus himself…do we have to lose all sense of what the New Testament equally emphatically calls right belief, orthodoxy?” (Truth is Symphonic: Aspects of Christian Pluralism, 13)

It certainly seems like von Balthasar is simply echoing the sentiments of Irenaeus, both of whom seem to point back to St. James (the Less or the Great, depending on who you believe), who wrote,

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

It would appear that even James faced this dichotomy where people were more concerned about works or about belief. To James, there is no difference. If you believe then it will show in your works, and your works will aid in your belief. Thus, faith is both a belief based upon reality, or Ultimate Reality, but because this is the case, faith requires us to act.

One can think of God’s Word, who is Truth (John 14:6) coming down and dying for His creation. Certainly He believed that He loved us, certainly Christ has beliefs about Himself. But He acted on those beliefs. The same God who baffles the greatest theologians and makes them less than children in knowledge came down to lift up the broken of this world so they might not only hear about His love, but experience His love. God cannot be divided, so while He is Truth, He is also action; we cannot merely believe in Him as a purely intellectual object to be studied, because when we gain true knowledge of Him we are moved to action.

This is part of the mysticism of Christianity, that it is a belief, it has propositional truths, it is rational, but it extends beyond these things. It has good actions, it is concerned with the poor, it serves the widows and orphans, but all of these actions are based upon its beliefs. Faith, true faith, is a faith based on reality and one that changes the whole of man.

Short Homilies – On the Fulfillment of Hope

As I write this, I am looking at a website that allows people to post anonymous prayer requests. Rather than simply saying, “I have an unnamed request,” they are able to say exactly what is bothering them without anyone knowing their identity. On this site, people put up prayers for their children who have cancer. One mother asked for prayer for her meth-addicted teenager. One man pleaded for prayers over a broken marriage and a wife that was cheating on him. Another man spoke of how he didn’t know whether or not his three-year-old daughter was going to live due to a horrible disease. Prayer requests made by strangers are sometimes more open than the “unspoken” prayer requests made in Sunday school and this can make us uncomfortable. The reason these anonymous prayer requests make us uncomfortable is that some of the requests come across as hopeless; they serve as a cry for help, a hapless, “pray for me,” though any hope of the situation improving is still slim.

It is very difficult to find hope in this world. It’s easy to come across people who see no point in life. We can look into the blank stare of an emancipated child in a third world country to realize this world is hopeless. So many in our age face evil on a daily basis and bear such a burden.

We face evil, we face pain, and we wonder if there will ever be an end. A young girl cries herself to sleep, wondering if the abuses of her father will ever cease. A father worries over how he will provide for his family since he lost his job. A teenage boy attempts to take his life because he feels like a stranger in his own home, emotionally neglected by his parents. A lady collapses in a back alley, longing for death because she feels she is worth nothing, not even good enough for prostitution. This is the hopeless world we live in.

To the burdened down, to the trial weary, to the restless, to those without hope, I beg of you, look in the empty tomb. The nothingness of the tomb of Jesus is full of everything you need.

Jesus Christ, God incarnate took upon our sins as a propitiation for what we deserve. He offered His life as a ransom. He took on our pain and suffering so that He too might be made weak like us, so that He might endure what we endure. But it is in this tomb, this beautifully empty tomb, we see Christus Victor, Christ victorious! In His resurrection He gained victory over everything laid upon Him on the cross.

Look into the empty tomb, those without hope, and in the emptiness find your hope. In His resurrection He has gained power over that which holds us back. All the evil of the world has been defeated and will one day come to an end. Continue reading

Short Homilies – On What Sinners Dare Not Dream

The first Christmas – a lost and lonely world fell asleep that night not understanding the magnitude and importance that the night held. A babe had been born in Israel that would change the course of human history. Born to a virgin, heralded in by angels, found among the unclean animals, hail to the Savior of the world. The God of all was to be born among the animals Jews were prohibited from touching. The Master of destiny was to be visited and worshiped by shepherds, the lowest of Jewish society. In this hopeless wreck we find Jesus Christ, Redeemer of all.

The Messiah was to be someone that heralded in a time of peace, a time of God’s kingdom, for the Jews. He would be an earthly conqueror of noble blood that would defeat the enemies of the Jews and lead them to victory. He would be a king who would establish God’s kingdom and authority upon this earth. The righteous would be blessed, the sinful would be judged, and the wicked would perish. This Messiah left sinners with little to no hope of being redeemed.

No sinner would dare dream that the Messiah would come from his or her own culture. No sinner would dare dream that the Messiah would come for him or her and not the “righteous.” No sinner would dare dream that the God incarnate would walk amongst His creation once again, not to utter, “Why do you hide from me” but instead to declare, “I love you and you belong to me.” No sinner would dare to dream that the Messiah would come and bring salvation to him or her, but He did.

In the comic books and movies, the hero never dies, and if he does it is only after he has exacted his vengeance upon his foe. In the movie “Man on Fire” Denzel Washington’s character Sonny loses the very thing that is most precious to him, a little girl that he has been hired to protect. He goes on a rage of killing and vengeance and in the end gives up his life for her. Turn to Spiderman and the underdog Peter Parker fights against overwhelming odds with his super human strength to restore order to a destroyed city. This is the tale of the hero in American literature and even in the American paradigm. The hero saves all, is strong, is admirable, is popular, and if he must die he only does so after justice has been served. Continue reading

Short Homilies – On Hope

Once in the Garden of Eden, at the beginning of our sorrows, the pre-incarnate Christ walked within the Garden looking for Man and Woman. He knew what had occurred. He knew His creation had rebelled. He knew the pain and suffering that was to come.

We can almost hear the pain as we read the most overlooked, but painful words within the entire Bible, “And the LORD God said unto them, ‘Where are you?’” God knew where they were, He knew where they were hiding; His question was a rhetorical one. Man answered and admitted to his rebellion and Woman confessed what she had done. The march toward Calvary had begun.

In a small insignificant town in the Roman province of Judea, the Christ child was born. God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, Son of God who was present at creation and the Fall, had come to fix what was broken.

We cannot begin to fathom what the world looked like through the eyes of Christ. For Him to walk in human flesh amongst His creation, to see the effects of sin on His world, what did the incarnate God feel? “Where are you” He must have uttered to creation as He walked to the various towns of Judea.

God asked Man and Woman where they were, but He did not wait on them to come find Him. He instead went into the world to find them – for this is the reason all of creation occurred, the reason He allowed sin, so that He might demonstrate His love for us in this; while we rebelled against Him, He died for us.

God incarnate, who cursed Man for his rebellion, who sought after Man in the Garden, hung upon a cross. The crafty serpent of old thought he had defeated God, but Christ arose, solidifying His solution. The serpent had bruised His heal, but He had crushed the head of the serpent. Continue reading

Short Homilies – On the Fall of Man and its Impact

The little girl cries as the man leaves her little shack. The darkness of this world has overpowered her. At such a young age she sits there as a prostitute, sold into sex slavery as though she were a prize. Multiple men visit her, but none off her any salvation. Day in and day out she must face the torture of this life. This world is broken.

As Susan falls to the floor she catches a sight of her son out the corner of her eye. As she falls down she motions for him to go back to his room. Before he can turn away, he witnesses his father – in a drunken rage – grab his mother by her hair and begin the process of beating her all over again. The son will face similar beatings as he grows up and proceed to unleash those beatings on his wife and children one day. This world is broken.

Robert sits in the chair next to his dying wife. He holds her hand as she struggles with every breath. The cancer has taken so much of her away. As he kisses her on her forehead, he watches painfully as she slips into eternity. Years of love, all the planning, promising to spend the rest of their lives together all comes to an end as her heart stops beating. In his early thirties, he must now face the fact that he is a single father – though he wants to mourn, he has no time because he has to take care of his daughter by himself. This world is broken.

Many people would attempt to deny that sin exists or that humans freely choose to sin. They would argue that this world is slowly progressing toward a better position. They would argue that humans are basically good. Yet, to the oppressed, to the poor, to the destitute, to those who’s lives have been blackened by the dark soot of sin, evil is very much a part of this world. This world is broken.

There is a lot of talk about ‘hope’. When asked to define hope, people merely say, “That things will get better.” They place their hope in causes and in politicians, not aware that their hope will be crushed to the ground. The same people who rejoice over the change they think has come will one-day gnash their teeth at the ‘hope’ they once saw. No politician, no human, can offer hope when that person is also in need of hope.  Yet, people continue to place their hope in people and institutions that often cause the darkness that we see in this world. This world is broken.

This world is weary. Children are suffering from starvation; wives are being infected with HIV by their promiscuous husbands; mothers are suffering through sleepless nights, wondering where their drug-addicted children are; little girls who should be innocent are being sold into the most perverse forms of slavery; husbands are wondering how they can provide for their families during tough economic times; our society is being lied to and being told that true happiness is found in an expensive image; this world is broken.


This was a scheduled post. I am currently out of town and subsequently have turned comments off since I cannot moderate or interact with commenters. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns about this post, please feel free to contact me.