This summer while trying to take a picture of some baby birds in their nest, I fell off the stool I was standing on and broke my wrist badly— seven-screws-and-a-metal-plate badly.
Since then, in addition to having to learn how to do everything I have to do with only one hand, I have also been learning a whole host of lessons about myself and God. One of those lessons is that I am as easily broken and as vulnerable as those baby birds were. This was never really a secret to me, of course. But there is nothing like a broken bone to remind you in a dramatic way that you are not invincible. There’s nothing like having great difficulty opening a bottle top, or buttoning your pants to remind you that you are not all powerful. I hate feeling vulnerable—not in the emotional sense—but in the physical sense. I also am not wild about being dependent on others for help. But having been forced to acknowledge my own vulnerability to myself these last couple of months, I have found myself thinking more and more about vulnerability and God.
Our Christian tradition holds that when God came and walked among us as Jesus Christ, God took on our human vulnerability. The theological term for this is kenosis. Philippians proclaims, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. (Phil. 2: 5-8). It’s such a counter-intuitive idea that an all-powerful God would choose to demonstrate power by relinquishing it that many human beings reject it. We don’t want a God who is vulnerable like us. We want a God who will squash the bad guys, defend us from the storms, and catch us when we are falling so that we will not break or experience pain.
I don’t know why God does not act like a superhero body guard for us in the way that we desire. But I suspect that it has something to do with the fact that when we realize we are vulnerable, we are more inclined to draw closer to God and one another. God wants a close relationship with all of us. If we feel all powerful then we start believing we do not need God. If we feel strong and self-sufficient, then we do not need to connect with others as much. In our self-sufficient isolation, we lose both understanding and help.
I have needed God desperately in the last couple of months just to cope. While I could have done without the broken arm, I am grateful for the fact that my time of need has brought me closer to God. And I have even developed a new understanding of how far God was willing to go into vulnerability to convince us that God knows our human pain. During my surgery, I had a nerve block on my arm which rendered it completely numb and unusable. About 8 hours later while I was sleeping, the block wore off and I was hit with the excruciating pain of having metal through bone where it was never meant to be. In that moment, my first thoughts were of Christ and the crucifixion. “If this is what only one arm feels like” I thought, “I do not know how Jesus endured the pain of the cross.”
Our God understands our pain better than we know and our vulnerability even when we refuse to acknowledge it. God understands so well that God meets us there so we will not be alone. May we in our suffering come to a better understanding of our needs and the needs of others, and of the power and depth of God’s love.