The atmosphere was electric. It was one of the most exciting tennis matches I had ever seen live. The stadium was roaring at the masterful back-and-forth exchange. I was there with my good friend, and we cheered with the rest of the crowd. But during one of the changeovers, I got up to walk toward the concession stand, and I tripped on a chain on the ground. I went flying forward and landed on my left arm. The pain was awful.
It’s been thirteen years since I developed a nerve disorder in both of my arms that renders me mostly disabled and in constant pain. I can’t do “normal” things like shake hands, eat with a normal fork, put on my seat belt (much less open the car door or drive). So, when I fell on my arm — an embarrassing but otherwise insignificant experience for most people — I knew that the crippling pain could haunt me for weeks or even months.
The pain is intense — always. Depression comes and goes, but scattered dark clouds remain on the horizon. Ministry life is busy, and I’m often feeling overwhelmed. At times, my mind wanders into imagining, “What if?” What if I had more strength, more energy, and more time? What could God do in and through me if I had these particular resources?
The God of Resurrection
The apostle Paul was no stranger to pain. He writes in 2 Corinthians 1:8, “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia.”
Paul doesn’t actually tell us what kind of affliction he was facing. We do know he had already gone through incredible suffering, which he describes later in the letter: lashed five times, beaten with rods multiple times, stoned, shipwrecked, imprisoned, starved, and constantly in danger (2 Corinthians 11:23–29). He knew affliction and human weakness.
Paul experienced all that suffering before he wrote. That’s not what he is talking about in 2 Corinthians 1. He had faced another affliction, in which he describes himself and his companions as “so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8).
“Human weakness does not equal spiritual disadvantage.”
Paul and his friends had thought they were going to die. On the other side of the trial, Paul understood what God was doing in his suffering. He writes, “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9).
Paul and his friends had been on the precipice of death, but this trial was not meaningless. Even the apostle Paul needed to learn an important lesson. Paul’s sufferings were not good in and of themselves, but God was taking Paul from a place of inadequate human strength to a place of dependence on the God who raises the dead.
The Advantage of Weakness
All of us are tempted to assume confidence in ourselves and not God. We could assume confidence in our physical strength, training, diet, sleep, education, gifting, or experience. We need a paradigm shift in our hearts: human weakness does not equal spiritual disadvantage. The truth is, we are all weak. But those who appear to be weak and rely on God are actually strong, because their strength comes from the almighty God!
Towards the end of 2 Corinthians, Paul writes (first quoting the Lord’s comforting word to him),
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9–10)
This is a complete paradigm shift from the world’s way of thinking. Contentment with weaknesses, hardships, persecution, and calamities — all for the sake of Christ — is strength. God doesn’t just use weak people despite their weaknesses; he demonstrates his perfect power through their weaknesses.
God has used my own weakness in countless ways. But this isn’t just Paul’s story, and it’s not just my story. It’s the story of the whole Bible. Joseph, Moses, Esther, Joshua in the battle of Jericho, David against Goliath. God uses our inadequacy to highlight his extraordinary power.
Our Scars Point to His
This truth about God’s power being made perfect in weakness is most clearly seen in the cross. In the book of Revelation, when John catches a glimpse of glory and sees the resurrected Jesus, the nail marks on his hands and feet were visible. John says, “I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain . . . who was seated on the throne” (Revelation 5:6–7).
“God is accomplishing more for his mission in our suffering than we can see right now.”
Jesus became the sacrificial Lamb who was slain for our sins. The marks on his body were not a deformity. They were not an accident. They were not a result of defeat. The literal, actual scars on Jesus’s glorified body are a result of the work he did to redeem our lives that have been scarred by our sin. All of us have sinned against a holy God. None of us could do anything to pay for our debt against our Creator. But God provided a way — through weakness and suffering. And we await his return in power.
Until then, God never promises us a pain-free existence. In a fallen world, our reality will often be a pain-full one. We can embrace God in our trials with faith that God is doing a work in us and through us that is beyond our limited comprehension. Until final deliverance, it’s a privilege to point to Jesus’s scars through our scars.
Our broken bodies and trials can be a beautiful picture of God’s glorious redemption. God is accomplishing more for his mission in our suffering than we can see right now — not in spite of our weakness, but through our weakness.