I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
When I was kid, I loved the “Archie” comic books. After reading about the gang’s antics, I lingered over the Charles Atlas ad on the inside back cover. A scrawny guy struck up conversation with a girl on the beach and then a bully showed up, kicked sand in the weakling’s face, and sauntered off with the girl. “I can make you a new man!” the ad read, touting some kind of physique-enhancement, followed by a new version of the story. The loser, now built like Hercules, stood up to the bully and held on to the girl. In my case, the girl wasn’t the prize; it was becoming the kind of guy that the muscle dude might take an interest in.
I wasn’t yet old enough to comprehend what this skewed response meant. Clearly, the ad didn’t only target the burgeoning identity of pre-teen gay men. Its broad appeal aimed at a more common anxiety. Fear of perceived weakness is a prevalent theme in everything from “Jack and the Beanstalk” to A Streetcar Named Desire to the constant saber rattling in the news. Survival threats naturally compel us to fear being viewed as weaklings. But those following Christ’s unnatural lifestyle take a different perspective. In the realm of faith, conceding weakness is how we show strength.
Knowing vs. Being
Knowing we’re weak isn’t the same as being weak. It’s the total opposite, in fact. The moment we confess our power and ploys are limited, we’re able to place complete trust in Christ to accomplish what we can’t—both in us and through us. Paul explained it like this: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses…. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12.10)
Admission of weakness urges us to step aside, divorcing ourselves from defense mechanisms for our sake so Christ can enter our situations for His sake. He has more to prove with us than how strong we are. Anyway, what does our strength really prove? At best, it only proves we’re stronger than what we presently confront. Furthermore, it engenders false self-confidence that inevitably will fail when somebody bigger comes up the beach and kicks sand in our faces.
Christ is our strength. Through Him we can do all things—proving His strength, not our own. When we activate His power in us, we see past the moment to find the eternal, looking beyond the now to discover the next. That’s faith in a nutshell. The world teems with people who dismiss following Jesus as a sign of weak-mindedness. They couldn’t be more correct. But we know what they don’t. Accepting our weakness puts God’s power to work. His strength becomes our strength.
Beyond its latent, campy homoeroticism, the Charles Atlas ads traded on our natural fear of being weak. As Christians, we glory in weakness as Christ's opportunity to reveal his strength in us and through us.
(Tomorrow: Our Peace)