Monday, May 13, 2019

Vulnerability may be counter-intuitive to us, but it is so necessary for real love to happen.

There is a strong ideology in our shared human DNA that believes that we will only be loved and respected if we are impressive and strong.  From a very young age, children are taught, not without good reason, that they need to grow up to be strong and even supreme in some way, so that they will have the upper hand in life.  Apart from health reasons, it easy to see that there are people who frequent the gym and resort to inject steroids in their bodies in order to project a very impressive appearance to the world.  The subliminal projection of this message lies behind the glossy covers of the many health and fitness publications that line the shelves of bookstores and newsstands.  Even if it is not physical strength that one seeks, being impressive to the world comes in other forms, like popularity and physical beauty, and having a huge following on social media.  

The human person has various reasons to do this, and it can be reduced to our desire for others to love us. In the early chapters of the Book of Genesis, we see a group of people who endeavor to do something rather strange – they set out to build a tower, attempting to reach the heavens.  This metaphor is deep as it is ridiculous. Behind it is man’s inner desire to make himself a stronghold that makes him tower over everything and everyone else. It is hubris in action.  Its antithesis is something that we humans have a tendency to reject and overcome, which is vulnerability and humility.  But in truth, it is vulnerability, seen clearly in the virtue of the practice of humility that really has lasting beauty, that does win not just friendship and real admiration, but also ultimately, love.  

But we need to be very careful to differentiate between the development of skills, talent and human gifts for true goodness and the building up of these same things, and for the building up of weapons that promote war, jealousy and a sense of superiority over others.  While one serves to endear ourselves in a good way to others and to society, the other only causes us to alienate ourselves from others, and to promote a sense of fear rather than love and healthy admiration.  This is indeed a fine art that few are automatically born or graced with, and its development lies within the purview of seeking spiritual maturity.  

This will only make sense if we begin to see both the wisdom and beauty of vulnerability, which is displayed magnificently on Calvary.  But without wisdom, vulnerability will only be seen as a stance in life that asks that we become doormats for others to step on, and sometimes repeatedly so.  In John’s gospel, which is the latest of the four gospels to be written, there is a very developed theology in its portrayal of the Son of God.  He is in total control of everything that happens right from the start with the Word becoming flesh, and we see him having power over all forces of the natural and the supernatural world in the fourth gospel. One interesting example of this is when Jesus is arrested in the Garden on the night of his trial, and John writes that when Jesus responds, “I am he” to the question who it is they are looking for, they “moved back and fell to the ground”.  There is a lot packed in this strange line.  John is reminding the reader that this Jesus the Nazarene is indeed the very same “I am who am” as revealed by Yahweh to Moses in the burning bush.  That omnipotent God and this Jesus are one and the same.  Ultimately, all creation will fall on its knees in worship.  It is at this revelation and reminder that the soldiers fall to the ground in a collective act of humility before the Divine.  

Yet, despite this, the events of the arrest, trial and eventual crucifixion take place.  The divine takes on the very important virtue of vulnerability in order for our salvation to happen.  It certainly isn’t to be confused nor associated with Jesus being a doormat at all.  

When there is a wrong or unhealthy idea of vulnerability, especially when it is confused with allowing others to know absolutely everything about us, it doesn’t become attractive either. We see this happening when there are ‘confessions’ at talk shows, where someone sits in front of an audience or on national television, and, as it were, lets it all “hang out”.  In a very twisted way, there is hubris in it because the person can be almost demanding that the world love and accept him and has used his “coming out” to buy their love and acceptance, almost demanding it in a crude way.  This isn’t love but a perverted trade-off.  This is so different from Calvary’s true power of vulnerability.

True vulnerability always needs to have a very clear sense of humility that has traits of honesty and tenderness at the same time, and this is where powerlessness gets its true power. It will always be a paradox that we have to struggle with in life.  

If you find yourself in a relationship that is very often in conflict with the other person, especially when you are perplexed by a lack of intimacy that is the fruit of honest and humble vulnerability, it could be a sign that there is still a lot to be learnt and discovered in the department where power in vulnerability is the motto.  It could be that you have been too busy building your own Tower of Babel in that relationship, and haven’t yet learnt how to be vulnerable in a godly way.

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