The Possibility of Vulnerability

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Many who are addressing the Christian’s response to our current crisis use the word “vulnerable.” To be vulnerable means to be exposed to the possibility of harm or to some kind of risk. The Bible has a lot to say about both vulnerability and the vulnerable: our need for the former and God’s empowering possibility for the latter.

I have rarely felt more vulnerable than now. It’s been growing by the week. Until COVID-19 went viral, things in my life were pretty well in hand. My life was well-ordered as my daily routines were well-entrenched, my financial security was, well, secure. My health has been remarkably good for decades and I have given little thought to an aging body. With very little perceived risk, vulnerability wasn’t a concept I gave much thought to. Until now.

Now, like you, my days are often monotonous—walled in—with little sense of productivity. My financial situation is more precarious than I would like, and people who think I am old warn me about going to the shops. I don’t like it. I don’t like not being in control. I don’t like others determining what I can do or where I can go. I don’t like being vulnerable. I am realising just how much I like my independence, how I aim for self-preservation. And this is why coronavirus is a gift.

This crisis is a means God is using to bring me to my knees, both in prayer and in perspective. This crisis is God’s good means of teaching me to live increasingly dependent upon him. It’s his mirror revealing my sinful self-sufficiency and the weakness of my faith. It’s God’s merciful revelation of how far short I am from Christlikeness. At the same time, it’s his encouraging motivation to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). In other words, the realisation of my vulnerability is an invitation to the possibility of God’s amazing, sustaining grace.

Throughout the book of Mark we have example after example of Jesus graciously reaching out and lifting up the vulnerable: those who were diseased, demonised, discriminated, desolate, disabled, and to those of whom society was simply dismissive. With compassion, we view these vulnerable people with sympathy and empathy. But let’s not miss the most important part of their story: They received the mercy of the Lord. In other words, as panful as it is to be in a place of vulnerability, it is also the place of great possibility. Jesus reached out to the lowly and he lifted them up.

Perhaps this is partly what James had in mind when he wrote,

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

(James 1:9–11)

In other words, the vulnerable Christian (“lowly brother”), having learned that God is all sufficient, is lifted up, while the risk-averse Christian, having been brought low, is now in the same condition to also be lifted up.

So, rather than pursuing self-actuated invincibility, let’s pursue God-centred vulnerability. For, as we humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, he will lift us up (James 4:10). And that’s more than a possibility; that’s a promise.

Doug