Oh the Humanity -2- The Human Condition

Scripture:  2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Ephesians 2:1-10

Major:  “I must devote my body and soul to fighting.  What do I have?  What does he have?  The ability to transform; the usage of familiars; the power to meddle with the hearts of men; the skill of resurrection; the consumption of blood; he is a vampire and views the lives of others as bread.  I, on the other hand, have nothing; simply because I am a human being.”

What are some of the expectations we have about our lives as Christians?

How do we explain hardship and suffering in the lives of Christians (including ourselves)?

The Major offers a grim view of our human condition, especially as compared to the many superhuman abilities of a monster like a vampire.  But is it really accurate to say that, as humans, we have nothing?  After all, despite all of our advances in the realms of science and theology, we are still subject to and frustrated by suffering and death.  In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul offers some insight on our suffering and on the idea that humans have nothing in the grand scheme of things.

2 Corinthians 12:7-8 tells us about Paul’s own struggles with hardship, with his “thorn in the flesh”.  This begs the question, “why?”  Paul is generally considered a very, very holy and godly dude.  As a matter of fact, in the preceding passages (2 Corinthians 11:16 – 12:6), Paul had been laying out his extremely spiritual pedigree which included being a minister of Christ, receiving visions, harrowing experiences as a missionary, and even being stoned once.  Paul’s answer in verse 7 is fairly simple:

“And lest I be exalted above measure by the abundance of revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.”

Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” is a reminder that he is still human and still must depend on God above all else.  The fact that Paul, arguably one of the most spiritual men ever, still experienced suffering in his life does not bode well for the common notion that if we are good enough we won’t have to suffer.  As long as we live in a world tainted with evil and sin, we will be subject to physical, mental, and spiritual infirmities.

It can be depressing to realize how helpless we are.  However, Paul does not leave it at that.  In verses 8-10, he provides us with direction in how to respond to our weakness.  Paul initially responds to his thorn by praying to God that it would be taken away from him.  As a matter of fact, he “pleaded” with God three times to have it removed.  God’s answer to Paul’s requests is:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

Some answer, right?  But Paul says that he would rather boast in his infirmities that the “power of Christ” may rest upon him.  That is to say, the weaker Paul is, the more he leans on God’s strength, and the more God works through him.  Putting things more generally, we can rely on God to guide us through our times of trial.  Trusting and relying on God will get us through anything.  However, that does not mean the same thing as “everything will turn out nice”.  What it does mean is that God will lend us the strength to handle suffering.  Think about it this way:  our lives are a journey from point A to point B.  From time to time, or even a lot of the time, we will encounter ditches in the path that we walk.  We often ask God to fill in the ditch or make it disappear.  However, the promise we have from God is that He will help us to cross any and all ditches in order to reach our destination.

Paul takes pleasure and boasts in his infirmities insofar as they allow him to trust more fully in God.  When we rest in God’s power (think Proverbs 3:5), it is an act of worship which glorifies God because we are placing our trust in Him and accepting His help in whatever form it may come.  It is extremely important to note that Paul does not ask for infirmities or other burdens (we don’t have to ask for them, they will come).  What he does do is respond to them with faith when they do come.

Let’s take a look at this human weakness and reliance on God from a different angle:  consider the salvation offered to us through Christ.  Ephesians 2:1-3 tells us that, as humans, we are unable to do anything to save our souls and were slaves to sin.  We cannot work or will our way from sinfulness to holiness.  However, even though we weren’t able to save ourselves, God stepped in and gave us a way out of our predicament (verses 4-7).  God doesn’t just make the things we’ve done and their consequences disappear.  What He does is count us as righteous and saves us from condemnation.  He helps us to put our lives back together and to follow Him.  The bottom line is that, even though we have nothing, through God’s mercy and power alone we are able to triumph over sin (verses 8-10).

When we fully trust in God is when we are at our strongest.  When we are faced with adversity in our lives, we have two choices:  to rely on God or rely on ourselves.  The difference between the two is that God’s strength never fails while ours will inevitably run out.  As Paul observes back in 2 Corinthians 12:10, when we are weak, we are strong, because it is at those times that we lean most on God.  The major may have a point when he says that humans have nothing, especially compared to a vampire.  However, even if we have nothing in this world other than our frail human existence, we have everything when we have God.

Practical Questions:

  1. Why do you think we are told to be self-reliant or to “suck it up”?
  2. How is our relationship with God affected by this “suck it up” mentality?
  3. How does knowing you can rely on God at all times for support change your perception of your weaknesses?
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