The "Weakness" of God is Stronger than Satan’s Power

There is a line in the Letter to the Hebrews which reads:

You made [Jesus] for a little while lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor, subjecting all things under his feet.” In “subjecting” all things (to him), he left nothing not “subject to him.” Yet at present we do not see “all things subject to him,” but we do see Jesus “crowned with glory and honor” because he suffered death,  (Heb 2:7-9)

Now this text is clear about two things. First, All things are subject to Jesus. Second, we do not presently see or experience that all things are subject to him. Why is this? Fundamentally it is because we experience grave injustice in this world and it seems to us that wickedness and evil are often triumphant. Our sufferings too can discourage us that God has any power at all. Such things do not seem to us to be subject to Christ. Yet the text is clear that all things are under his feet even if it does not seem so.

How can we claim that Christ is triumphant over all when things so often seem the opposite?

Come with me to the cross.  The text says we DO see Jesus crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death. So, here we are at the foot of the cross. And what do we see? With our earthly eyes we see complete defeat, a total failure. Jesus who cured the sick, walked on water, and even raised the dead, is now himself dead on a cross. Our fleshly eyes see only failure, and a cruel joke. Can He who saved others not save himself? Satan has won; end of story.

Or is it? You know it is not the end of the story, for on Sunday he rose. So he did defeat Satan. But how? ….Through weakness….. Through death. Even in his “weakness” God is stronger than Satan’s mightiest power. And hence, though we look about this world and see God’s “weakness” we need to understand that even in his weakness he is defeating Satan. Indeed, his greatest works have emerged from the “weakness” of his Son.  An old song, “El Shaddai” says,

    • Through the years you made it clear,
    • that the time of Christ was near,
    • But couldn’t see what Messiah ought to be.
    • And Though your word contained the plan,
    • they just would not understand,
    • Your most awesome work was done,
    • through the frailty of your son.

We really Don’t know what we are talking about – So the text from Hebrews makes it clear that all things are subject to him even though our earthly, eyes do not (will not) see it. Hence you and I may complain of God’s apparent weakness and question the apparent triumph of evil. But we really don’t know what we are talking about. It’s like standing at the foot of the Cross on Good Friday and proclaming total failure. If we were there and did so we would really have no idea what we were saying. Even as we were saying it, the supposedly dead Jesus was down among the dead in Sheol awaking them and turning out the devil’s trophy room. While the Devil was running victory laps around the cross Jesus was robbing him blind of all his “trophies” (the dead)  and preaparing to open heaven for them who had long awaited him. All things are subject to Christ even if they don’t appear so.

And for us who experience our own weakness, here too we know not what we say unless the wisdom of the Cross is applied to it. St. Paul said, For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor 12:10). How are we strong? We are strong because in our weakness we learn to depend on God who is our true strength. Our greatest enemy  is pride. Only our weakness can strip us of this pride so that God can use us and save us. At age forty, Moses was strong, in the prime of his life, educated, passionate and powerful. But he was too strong and in his pride he murdered a man. God couldn’t use him and so caused him to flee to the desert for purifcation. It took forty years. At age 80 Moses was stooped, leaned on a staff and stammered. Now he was weak enough for God to use him. At age 80, God said to Moses, “Go down Moses, tell Pharaoh to let my people go.” For when I am weak, then I am strong for then the power of God rests on me.

I like you have my crosses and suffering. A spritual director once told me, “Thank God you’ve got them. Otherwise you’d be too proud to be saved and be heading right to hell. And even on your way God couldn’t use you.” Yes, even our weakness is subject to Christ and used mightily by him.

The Cross is a paradox and we must spend our lives learning to kneel before and heed its wisdom. Yet at present we do not see “all things subject to him,” but we do see Jesus “crowned with glory and honor” because he suffered death. God’s “weakness” is stronger than Satan’s power.

Only Limited Freedom is True Freedom

One of the great paradoxes of freedom is that it really cannot be had unless we limit it. Absolute freedom leads to an anarchy wherein no is really free to act. Consider that we would not be free to drive if all traffic laws were ended. The ensuing chaos would making driving quite impossible, not mention dangerous. The freedom to drive, to come and go, depends on us limiting our freedom to merely do as we please and cooperate through obedience to agreed upon norms.

Right now I am writing you in English. I appreciate the freedom we have to communicate and debate. But my freedom to communicate with you is contingent on me limiting myself to the rules we call grammar and syntax. Were there no rules, I would lose my freedom to communicate with you. And you also would not be free to comprehend me. Consider these sentences:

  1. Jibberish not kalendar if said my you, in existential mode or yet.
  2. dasja, gyuuwe %&^% (*UPO(&, if gauy ga(&689 (*&(*)) !!

What, can’t you read? Clearly when I assert absolute or extreme freedom neither of us are more free. Rather we are more limited.

So the paradox of freedom is that we can only experience freedom by excepting constraints to our freedom. Without contraints and limits, we are hindered from acting freely.

Jesus and Freedom – Here too is an insight to what Jesus means when he says that If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.  (John 8:31-32). There are many people today who excoriate the Church and the Scriptures as a limit to their freedom. Unfortunately many Catholics are also affected by this notion. To such as these, they say the Church is trying to “tell them what to do” and Christians are trying “to impose their values on the rest of us.”

Now of course the Church cannot really force anyone to do much of anything. But beyond this, notice that announcement of Biblical truth is said by many today to threaten freedom, not enhance it. But Jesus says just the opposite, it is the truth that sets us free. Now the truth is a set of propositions that limits us to some extent. If “A” is true then “not A” is false. I must accept the truth and base my life on it to enjoy its freeing power. And the paradoxical result  is that the propostions of the truth of God’s teaching do not limit our freedom so much as enhance it.

Image – As we have seen, absolute freedom is not really freedom at all. It is chaos wherein no one can really move.   Every ancient city had walls. But these were not so much prison walls, as defending walls. True, one had to limit himself  and stay within the walls to enjoy their protection. But within the walls there was great freedom, for one was not constantly fighting off enemies and distracted with a fearful vigilance. He was freed for other pusuits, but only within the walls.

Those who claim that the truth of the gospel limits their freedom might also consider that the world outside God’s truth shows itself to be far less than free. Addictions and compulsions in our society abound. Neuroses, and high levels of stress are major components of modern living. The breakdown of the family and the seeming inability of increasing numbers to establish and keep lasting commitments is quite significant. A kind of teenage obsession with sex is evident and the widespread sadness of STDs, teenage pregnancy, single motherhood (absent fathers)  and abortion are  its results. Addiction to wealth and greed (the insatiable desire for more) enslave many in a kind of financial bondage wherein they cannot really afford the lifestyle their passions demand, and they are unsatisfied and in deep debt. The so-called freedom of the modern world apart from the truth of the Gospel is far from evident. These bondages also extend into the members of the Church to the extent that we do not seriously embrace the truth and base our lives upon it. The Catechism says rather plainly:

The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to “the slavery of sin.” (CCC # 1733)

In the end, the paradox proves itself. Only limited freedom is true freedom. Demands for absolute freedom lead only hindered freedom and outright slavery.

This video is very creative indeed. It shows a “Jibberish interview” which illustrates how we are free to communicate only within the contraints of grammar and rules of language.

Disability or Different Ability?

Allow me to begin with a parable. Every now and then I take a perfectly good paper clip and I untwist and reconfigure it for some purpose. Once I used untwisted paperclips to hang Christmas ornaments on the tree. Another time I untwisted and fashioned a paperclip into a hook to keep my file drawer from rolling open. Now if paperclips could see and think and talk they might be horrified and saddened to see a fellow paperclip so deformed. And perhaps I could try and explain that these “deformed” paperclips were actually not a disaster, they were quite useful to me in their “deformed” condition. But alas, the paperclips cannot understand this, they just look with sadness and horror on the deformed paperclips. After all how can you expect a paperclip to understand something other than clipping paper? They are just paperclips after all and can’t understand deeper things beyond the world they know, which is clipping paper.

I have often wondered if this isn’t something of the truth about us in our understanding of things such as disability, birth defects, and personal challenges of some of our fellow human family members. As we look upon the disabled, the handicapped, those who struggle with deformity, mental illnes, profound and/or mild mental disability we are often moved to sadness and even horror. And we easily ask, “Why does God allow this?!” We quickly conclude that such people’s lives are unhappy or that they will never reach full potential.

And yet I wonder if we really know what we are talking about. Who of us can really say what our own purpose in God’s plan is let alone anyone else’s? We are like paperclips in a drawer who know only one thing. Our minds are too small for us to ever understand the very special and significant role that even the most “impaired” in our world play. Perhaps in heaven we will realize what an indispensable and central role role they had in God’s plan and victory.   Of all the paperclips in the drawer some of the most useful to me are the ones I twist and refashion.

A knowledge too high – I pray you will accept my humble example of a paperclip. I mean no disrespect to the human person in comparing us to paperclips. We are surely more precious and complicated and God does not glibly use us like paperclips. But my example must be humble to illustrate what is for us a knowledge too high for us to grasp:  the knowledge of the dignity and essential purpose of every human being to God and his plan. Our judgments in this matter cannot be much better than a paperclip in a drawer compared to God’s omniscient wisdom. If it is absurd for us to think a paperclip could understand our ways is it really much less absurd to think we can understand all God’s ways? And if we cannot understand his ways, why do we make judgments as to another person’s role, usefulness, beatitude or status? We look down on the poor but scripture says we should look up to them and that God is especially close to the poor, the suffering, the brokenhearted and the humble. Scripture says he uses the lowly to humble the proud. And yet still we so easily look with pity on those we consider disadvantaged.

A Story – Over twenty years ago I worked for a year with the profoundly mentally disabled. They lay in beds and wheelchairs often with little muscle control. None of them could talk and only a few could engage in rudimentary communication. There was one man in his forties who had never emerged from the fetal position. He  lay in a large crib his tiny yet clearly adult body curled up like a newborn babe. And on his face the most angelic smile that almost never diminished. He had been baptized as an infant and to my knowledge could not have sinned. I looked with marvel each visit upon innocence and a beatific countenance. What an astonishing gift he was. And who knows but God why he was this way? But God DOES know and had very important reasons. There was something central and indispensable in this man’s existence. Some role only he could fill. Apparently I was not able to fill that role. He was not disabled, he was differently abled, uniquely abled for something  different than the ordinary. Looking upon him I had little doubt that he was directly in touch with God in a way that I never had been for his radiant face infallibly conveyed that. With our human eyes we can be saddened even appalled. But we’ll understand it better by an by. One day in the great by and by we may well be surprised to learn that the most central and critical people in God’s plan were the most humble and often the most broken and that we would never have made it without them.

This video depicts the paradox of disability that sometimes shines through to teach us that we do not see the whole picture. A child was born with significant defects but suddenly as he  grew remarkable gifts showed forth. Just a little reminder from God, a glimpse of what God sees,  that the disabled are to him  differently and wonderfully abled. Meet Patrick Henry Hughes.

Some of God’s Gifts Come in Strange Packages

My mother loved to put gifts in strange packages. One Christmas I eagerly tore off the wrapping of a fairly  heavy package (heavy packages usually meant something good!). To my disappointment I discovered that it was a box of Glad Trash Bags. Well, I guess I could use this but I was disappointed to say the least. She knew I was disappointed but smiled and said, “Open the box!”  I noticed a little of the package had already been slightly opened and yet I said, “Mom why open this now, I’ll use them later.” “Open it,” she said. So did and inside was a check for $100.  Over the years she often found strange packages to hide gifts, an old shoe box, a box of No. 2 Pencils, a package of underwear. “Gee thanks, Mom.”  “Open it!” And there were two $50 bills. So I learned that sometimes good gifts come in strange packages.

God is that way too. Some of God’s gifts come in strange packages. Hidden within some of the crosses we’ve been asked to carry are some precious treasures. Maybe we learned that we were stronger than we thought. Maybe our weakness taught us to trust and ask for help. Maybe the loss of a job opened new doors and launched new vistas. Maybe a troublesome person taught us patience and humility. Maybe an enemy helped us to see something in us that needed to change. Maybe injustice taught us to fight for what was right and that we were not truly alive until we found something for which we were willing to die. The cross is a paradox, a gift in a strange package.

I suppose we’ve all thought of the ideal circumstances we’d like to live in. Surely there would be reasonable affluence, comfort and beauty. It was no different as a priest. I wanted a beautiful Church, no debt, in a “nice” neighborhood etc. And yet my first assignment as pastor took me to the poorest neighborhood in the city with the highest crime rate. I remember the first day I went to look the place over. I drove onto the parking lot and there was a car on fire. I looked around and people were walking up and down the sidewalks as if nothing were amiss. I ran to the rectory door quite anxious. When the door opened I nervously pointed to the burning car and the staff person within said, “Oh, not again! OK come on in I guess I’ll go ahead and call the fire department.” In order to enter I had to pass through two sets of bars.  Ah but I loved my time at St. Thomas More Parish. It was a wonderful Parish, wonderful people, wonderful experiences. And I cried copious tears seven years later when I was asked to take another assignment (where I am also quite happy). But you never know as you open the strange packages God gives you what gifts are within. God can make a way out of no way and write straight with crooked lines. That burning car on a church parking lot was really for me like the burning bush that Moses saw on the mountain assuring him (me) of God’s blessings. It didn’t seem so at the time but years later I understood: Some of God’s greatest blessings come in strange packages.

This video prompted the reflection above. When I saw it I didn’t expect to be too impressed. It was just supposed to be a kid playing an accordion. I didn’t expect much, just the usual reedy sound and some missed notes. I had no idea what I was about to see. I NEVER knew an accordion could be made to sound like this nor did I expect to see such virtuosity. This young man has extraordinary talent. One of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, the Presto from “Summer”  on accordion! yes, an accordion! Sometimes gifts come in strange packages!