Saturday, September 24, 2016

We Are Weak But He Is Strong

Karl Barth is widely considered the most profound and influential Protestant theologian of the entire twentieth century, and maybe even in all of modern Christianity. Pope Pius XII called him the most important Christian theologian since St. Thomas Aquinas. Karl Barth was to twentieth century theology what Billy Graham was to evangelism and more. Both made the cover of Time Magazine due to the extraordinary impact of their Christian faith on mainstream culture.

A couple of decades ago a pastor friend of mine found out I was reading Barth when I started pelting him with questions at our regular breakfast meet ups. Barth's theology is not only profound, but quite complex. It can make your head hurt, and I wanted this pastor, who had the benefit of formal seminary training, to help me understand the complexities of Karl Barth.

He asked me if I knew Karl Barth's most profound truth about God. I got a little excited because I thought I was about to be enlightened with some amazing new truth that would open my mind to the vistas of God's grandeur. This pastor friend was a bit of a jokester, and I sat on the edge of my seat in anticipation of some new nugget of truth as he started singing in a quiet voice...


"Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tell me so..."

I was so disappointed. I may have even accused him of lying because at that point in my life I was considering going to seminary. I was so hungry for the deep truths of God that I was upset about hearing the great Karl Barth's most profound truth was in the child's song "Jesus Loves Me." I didn't believe him, but this apocryphal story is all over the place. It might actually be true, but it doesn't really matter. Even if the great Karl Barth didn't say this, the fact remains that the most profound truth about God is the love of God.

I turned 49 yesterday, and I still don't think I understand the love of God. Jesus told us all of God's laws can be summed up in two commands that both involve love. (1) Love God, and (2) love other people. If all of us got that right the world would be a very different and better place. I'm still working on that simple but surprisingly deep truth. I don't fully grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge as the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 3, and lately I'm realizing this child's song has even more theological depth further along in the first stanza. The next two lines are mind blowing too.

"Little ones to him belong, they are weak but He is strong..."

One of the most read articles on this blog is The Paradox Principle. "We are weak, but He is strong" is yet another paradox to add to the list. When you're a little kid, you don't have any power. Everyone is bigger and stronger, and you have no say. Everyone else tells you what to do, but as we grow up we get more power. Those of us of the male persuasion are particularly proud about our accomplishments and achievements because we are no longer weak. Now we are strong.

I go to the gym to get strong. The meat heads at my gym prance around in their testosterone induced states showing their strength. I used to watch a lot of UFC fights and go to an MMA gym because I enjoyed watching displays of strength, and I too wanted to be invincible. The modern American male myth is the independent, indestructible, self-reliant rugged individual. And it is a myth. Real men are like Jesus.

Real men love, and real men are weak. If you pay attention, the verse doesn't say Jesus makes me strong. Jesus is the strong one. I could try to impress you with my Bible knowledge of how Paul taught this paradoxical truth in 2 Corinthians 12, but I'm no Karl Barth. Even then, if someone had asked Karl about the second most profound truth about God, I think he might have just kept on singing "Jesus Loves Me."

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