Our Sorrow, God’s Weakness

crucifixion.picaso II

Then he just knelt in the ashes. He raised his face to the paling day. Are you there? he whispered. Will I see you at the last? Have you a neck by which to throttle you? Have you a heart? Damn you eternally, have you a soul? Oh God, he whispered. Oh God.1

Rarely do I speak about my vulnerabilities. If you know anything about the enneagram, I am an 8. Up until about a year ago, vulnerability was weakness to me. But it was last year, during the Lenten season, where I was compelled to meditate on my vulnerabilities and weaknesses. And in meditating on my own finitude, I saw, for the first time, the frailty of God. In the process, my faith was renewed.

I was ready to leave. Not just because it was my senior year—but because I believed that I had failed as a leader. More than that, I recognized a major dissonance between my theology and the institutions theology.

Desperate. Discouraged. Dejected. I was ready to leave… In some ways, I had already left.

To make matters worse, my leaving was entirely predicated upon passing a specific class: Math 110. I had put off taking this class since the first day of my college career. I hate math. To me, it is the “four letter cuss word.” It’s not that I merely dislike math because I find it boring, complicated or useless. The primary reason I disdain math is this: it requires me to acknowledge my disabilities.

I am dyslexic. Not too many people know this about me. In fact, I have, since junior high, tried to hide my dyslexia from people. In retrospect, part of my reasoning for doing this was for protection. However, a larger reason I didn’t talk about my dyslexia was because I was too ashamed. To give the reader an idea of how ardently opposed I am to having people know about my dyslexia, I should mention that throughout my college career, I completely rejected any form of compensation for my disability. I also, despite the temptation, never lashed out at a student who belittled me because I read, spelled, or pronounced a word incorrectly.

It is already infuriating enough when Anglo-European students tell you that the only reason you were accepted was because the school needed to add a bit of “color” to the campus. To be black or brown, in some students minds, is to be given preferential treatment by institutions. My peers could see the color of my skin—I couldn’t (can’t) control that. But I could control whether or not students “saw” my dyslexia.

I made this commitment not for the sake of piety or out of a desire to lord my determination over my peers—students nor professors ever knew I made this commitment. In reality, I denied compensation so that I could deny my disability.

Math 110 forced me to acknowledge my dyslexia. The extra hours, the sleepless nights, the mounting anxiety with each exam. It was enough to make someone lose their religion.

Desperate. Discouraged. Dejected. I was ready to leave… where was God in all this?

God is omnipotent. God is impassible. God is transcendent. God is sovereign. These were the dominant theological affirmations that were promoted at my college and in my surrounding context. For a student who is experiencing deep anxieties and frustrations due to a learning disability, there is no solace in impersonal attributes being attributed to God. When I heard that I should “take comfort in God’s sovereignty” it seemed like a fancy way of telling me that I just needed to suck-it-up-and-deal.

Desperate. Discouraged. Dejected. I was ready to leave… did God even exist?

Lent was approaching. But I was on the cusp of throwing in the towel on the whole God thing. Between a nervous break down and absolute exhaustion, I began to have an existential crisis of faith.

It was Ash Wednesday. Our chapel service was entirely liturgical. This was unusual for our school. Even more unusual was my staying for the entire service instead of slipping out the back door—my usual routine. But on this particular day, the Chorale sang a beautiful rendition of Were You There? and I began to meditate on the incarnation. More specifically, I began to reflect on God crucified.

During Stations of the Cross, I was confronted, via station XII, with the weakness of the God-Man who hung before me. Christ, vulnerable—naked for all to see. Christ, a human—made of flesh and blood. Christ, alone—forsaken by the Father. There on that cross, Christ was desperate, discouraged and dejected. My anxiety about math begin to dissipate as my eyes remained steady on Christ’s cross. What happened in me that day can only be described as my conversion to the “weakness of God.”

I realized, Christ was with me during my anxiety. Christ was with me in my loneliness. Christ was with me in my vulnerability. Through God’s people, who dared to follow me into the abyss, the presence of Christ was made manifest in my life. Mimicking Christ, these people chose to suffer with me.

Some would have us believe that a single apologetic can be given to answer the problem of suffering. Further still, these people feel it is their divine duty to proclaim this apologetic wherever suffering occurs. However, God seems to have little use for logical arguments when it comes to suffering. Rather than providing some sort of theodicy, God enters into suffering for the sake of solidarity and redemption. Indeed, the weakness of God saves.

A sober conclusion is appropriate as we enter into Holy Week. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was right to say that, “If Jesus Christ is to be described as God, then we do not speak of his omnipotence and omniscience, but of his cradle and his cross.”2 Christ was a man afflicted with many sorrows—not the least of them being his humanness. In Christ becoming human, he became familiar with our desperation, our discouragement, our dejection. Yes, our sorrow is God’s weakness.

Josiah R. Daniels
  Holy Week 2014

END NOTES & DEDICATION:

1. Cormac McCarthy, The Road, 11-12.
2. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christ the Center, 108.
Photo: Pablo Picasso, Crucifixion.

Dedicated to those who suffered with me…
Michael and Alli Wiltshire, Nathan and Abby Smith, Jake McMahon, Jonah Daniels, Jonathan Romano, Hannah Aldrich, Tyler Mitchell, David Fosdahl, Jake Christoforakis, Jill Zwyghuizen, Dorothe and Matt Bonzo, Ryan Roberts, Doug Mohrmann, Bethany Luzny, Heather Promer, Mike Edwardson, Kay Landrum, Chip Huber, Jaclyn Visbeen, Rj Alecia, Lizzy Jewell, Josh and Erin Perkins, Zach Clementz, Leanne Enck, Gail Duhon, Scott Courey, Kim Nguyen, Ruthie and Rob Daniels.

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  • Alex Ross

    Wow, this is a beautifully honest post, thanks for sharing.

    As a senior who is about to graduate from the same institution, and who has plenty of his own weaknesses, I can really empathize with a lot of what you’re saying. I grew up in a conservative Calvinist church. I was comforted all my life with talk of God’s sovereign power and his providence. For a while it was comforting, until I too found myself desperate, alone, and in doubt.

    I’m wondering: have you ever read much by Jurgen Moltmann? I’ve been reading “The Crucified God” during Lent, and he touches on this theme really well, especially when he is contrasting the the omnipotent, impassible God with the God we see in Jesus on the cross. Reading this post reminded me of his book.

    “A God who cannot suffer is poorer than any man. For a God who is incapable of suffering is a being who cannot be involved. Suffering and injustice do not affect him… He cannot weep, for he has no tears.. the one who cannot suffer cannot love either.”
    – Moltmann, The Crucified God

    I can only ever love the suffering God, because only the suffering God can really love me.

    Thanks again for sharing this

    • Josiah Daniels

      Alex, thanks for the encouragement.

      Moltmann. Cannot say enough about that guy. I was introduced to him through the philosophy world. His stuff on eschatology is amazing. Dr. Bonzo wrote his dissertation on Moltmann. You should ask him about him.

      Also check out Abraham Heschel.

      Thanks for the kind words.