Human Weakness and Spiritual Growth
“When God made humanity, He placed the soul of a god in the body of a worm.”
This is a quote I once read, but I cannot identify the source. I don’t know if it was written by a Christian, but experience testifies to its truth. The passions, desires, and aspirations of human beings far exceed their ability to reach them. There seems to be no limit to the heights to which human beings aspire. There’s no limit to the challenges they yearn to overcome, the mountains they wish to summit, or the depths they long to survey.
On the other hand, there’s no limit to humanity’s cravings. There’s no limit to the wealth, possessions, leisure time, activity, and power people desire. They just cannot get enough. And, unless restrained, humanity’s cravings can grow perverse and pathological. There will be no limit to humanity’s manipulation, control, and violence.
Mercifully – and I do mean mercifully – God has placed this super-craving and over-achieving person in a frail and weak body. Otherwise, humanity’s unrestrained passions would bring total self-destruction. It’s true that human weakness is a tremendous source of frustration, envy, anger, and depression.
But for the Christian believer who’s been trained by human limitations, they can produce the image of Jesus Christ in them. For God intends human weakness to draw us to Himself and make us depend upon Him more. Human weakness is God’s tool to help us know Him better and live out life in His strength, wisdom, and love. Therefore, God intends human weakness to be the instrument of our spiritual growth. Thus, being a prisoner in the body of a worm leads to our ultimate freedom.
Having said this, I’d like to cite a biblical passage that has shocked many people, both non-believing and believing. While talking about stumbling blocks (i.e. things that cause us to spiritually stumble or sin), Jesus said this to his disciples.
“And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched’” (Mark 9:43-48).
Jesus uses this extreme language to make a profound point. If something in our lives – even something as innocent and good in itself as a hand, foot, or eye – causes us to sin, then it’s far better to get rid of it. Even if having something as useful and helpful as a computer (or cell phone, video game, etc.) brings dangerous temptation into our lives, then it’s better to get rid of it than to fall away from God.
But can you see the hidden application in Jesus words? Here Jesus unveils God’s reasons for allowing tragic things – like physical disabilities, deformities, and birth defects – in our lives. These weaknesses and disabilities may be the very means by which God draws us to Himself to save us eternally. The very things which break the hearts of parents may well be God’s instrument to save their children. Indeed, “It is better to enter eternal life maimed, than to be perfectly healthy and strong only to end up in hell.”
Perhaps many of us do not possess the inner power to rid ourselves of such possible stumbling blocks as fame, riches, and praise. Is it, then, too much of a stretch to see how God might withhold those things from us in order to save us? And if perfect health, physical strength, and beauty become stumbling blocks to us, might not God withhold those things from us as well? If He loves us, He will certainly do so.
Remember Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10? There the great apostle describes how God allowed a “thorn in the flesh” in his life to keep him from becoming too proud and arrogant. Though he further refers to this “thorn in the flesh” as a “messenger of Satan sent to buffet me,” he sums it up as a “weakness” in verses 9-10. Therefore, most Bible scholars see it as a physical weakness rather than as a spiritual entity.
Satan may have belittled Paul because of this physical weakness. He may have made Paul feel guilty and worthless for being too impaired to do all he wanted to do for the Lord. Yet it seems that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was physical – perhaps a problem with his eyes ever since his confrontation with Christ (Acts 9:8-18). Later references in Paul’s letters seem to indicate that Paul may have struggled with poor eyesight (e.g. Galatians 4:13, 15; 6:11). And it wouldn’t be the first time a divine encounter left a man of God physically impaired for the rest of his life. Jacob walked with a limp for the rest of his life after he met God face to face (Genesis 32:24-32). It helped change him from a self-reliant man into a God-reliant man. And although Paul pleaded with God to take away his impairment, he went on to say that he learned to embrace and boast in his weaknesses so that the power of Christ might rest upon him (2 Corinthians 12:9). “For when I am weak,” Paul wrote, “then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
I can think of many disabled, deformed, and even disfigured people who credit their physical “weakness” with either bringing them to the Lord or for fulfilling God’s purpose in their lives. Fanny Crosby was blinded by a doctor’s malpractice when only six weeks old. Yet she credited this injury with bringing her to God. In one of her 8,000-plus hymns she wrote, “For I know what e’re befalls me, Jesus doeth all things well.”
David Roever was horribly scarred when an incendiary grenade exploded in his hand. The intense heat burned away all his handsome features and made him look like a monster. Yet these terrible scars also made him a powerful witness for Christ – especially among other disabled and disfigured veterans.
Joni Eareckson Tada was paralyzed from the neck down from a diving accident when she was only 16 years old. Her “useless” body became a prison to her, restricting her from all the activities she loved. Yet, through her torturous confinement her spirit and faith grew to towering proportions. Much more, God used her disability to soften and open the hearts of millions of people who’d become prisoners to self-pity, envy, and anger.
Nick Vujicic (pronounced “voo ya chick”) was born without any arms or legs. We can only imagine the challenges this created for a child growing up in a world that worships strength and beauty. But Nick had Christian parents who taught him not to envy others or perish in self-pity. They taught him to trust in God to use his limitations for a divine purpose. Today Nick is one of the most powerful Christian witnesses and motivational speakers. And there are plenty of activities he enjoys, including surfing, fishing, swimming, painting – and raising a family.
These along with millions of others have learned to testify, “It is far better to find eternal and abundant life through injuries, impairments, and limitations – than to enjoy perfect health, strength, and beauty and be eternally lost.” And – as someone who suffers his own struggle with mental illness – I will say that even impairments of the mind can be God’s instrument for driving us closer to Himself. As Paul the apostle said, “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
PRAYER: Dear Father in heaven, help me to accept my own limitations – as well as those of others. Help me to realize that those very weaknesses will bring us closer to You and make us stronger with Your strength, if we let them. Grant that I will never look down on someone who is physically or mentally disabled. For in their weakness God may be fashioning a saint of God who towers over me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.