Blessed are the Weak
by Michael S. Beates
Someone has said that the opposite of faith is not doubt but self-reliance. When we determine, despite massive and overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that we are sufficient and able on our own, we begin to live as if we no longer need God or faith. The truest sign of cultural unbelief is the perception that we are doing okay, that things are all right. Recognizing our essential weakness and brokenness is not a pleasant prospect, and our culture works hard to deny that reality and proclaim its self-sufficiency. Sharon Betcher agrees, writing, “What seems to the cultural eye the physical obstinacy of disability suggests rather a religious, philosophical, and/or cultural rejection, namely, an undigested or inadmissible awareness that to live will involve us, at some time and at some level, in physical and/or psychic suffering.”1
In the 1999 film The Matrix, we see a cinematic illustration of this truth. When the character Neo is “rescued” and awakened, he opens his eyes to a world that is terribly ugly, broken, and dark. He learns that humanity for the most part continues to live as slaves in a computer-generated dream world of sorts, never grasping the true nature of their desperate and lost situation. At one point, early in his rehabilitation, Neo asks, “Why do my eyes hurt?” And his companion, Morpheus, responds simply, “You’ve never used them before.”2 So for us, sometimes after God saves us to himself and our eyes are opened for the first time spiritually, we begin to see our brokenness and the ugliness of the world. But this is a necessary first step to embracing the hope of the gospel—renewal and reformation into the image of Christ and final restoration with God.
Our culture, too, vehemently denies humanity’s desperate spiritual brokenness, and we hide our physical weaknesses. Again Betcher declares, as a person traumatically wounded in midlife, that she desires her disability to be neither “the stigmata of a saint nor . . . provocation for social taboo.”3 But with great eloquence she says that in the West “we culturally bury in crypts of silence and alienation” those who live with disabled bodies.4 However, Adam Nelson has written:
Brokenness seems to be a prerequisite that God demands before doing lasting work through a person. . . . [But] the term broken is almost always perceived as negative. Victor Frankl said, “Despair is suffering without meaning.” Brokenness helps us avoid despair when our dreams do not come true and when we suffer, because it gives us meaning when we need it most. . . . Only after we are broken in the right place can we be truly healed and experience wholeness.5
So we have a tension between our cultural experience of antipathy to weakness and disability on the one hand and the model that Scripture seems to unfold on the other. Our culture says, “Avoid the broken and the disabled. Hide your weakness and blemishes. Act as if they simply aren’t there.” But the Scriptures give story after story and proposition after proposition saying instead, “Understand that you—all of you in some sense or another—are broken. Stop avoiding the truth and embrace it.” For in that embrace we begin to grasp the power of God through his grace made manifest in human weakness.