For most people, vulnerability is not the first word that comes to their mind when they think about God. Usually, people go one of two directions: theological or personal. The theologically minded say words like omnipotent and omniscient. Those who take a more personal route to God say words like loving, good, and grace. But for me, as I move in a direction ever closer to Him, I am regularly astonished by His vulnerability.
Genesis leads with God crafting a world and then humans made in His image to live in it. Not as dolls in an elaborate dollhouse or puppets to be manipulated on a stage. He makes humans, who like Himself, have the power of choice. At any point, they can walk away. And they do.
Some might be tempted to say Yeah, but then He cursed them. I tend to read the curse as merely a statement of how things are going to be outside the garden. We are going to have to work hard. Men will have power over women. Women are going to go to great lengths to get men to want them. Childbirth (and child-rearing) is physically and emotionally grueling.
To focus on the curse is to ignore the great lengths to which God goes to re-enter into a relationship with us. He loves us. We reject Him. This is the whole of the Bible. In the end, some of us accept Him and the rest wage a war against their own Creator.
God risks rejection over and over. He speaks to us in a still small voice rather than in a mighty, overpowering voice. He is a God who invites. Not one who forces relationship.
In an article I read in Psychology Today on the topic of vulnerability, the point is made that we suffer from two core vulnerabilities. This is not the heartwarming kind of vulnerability that Dr. Brene Brown is writing about in her book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Though if you haven’t read her book, you might want to consider it.
The point of the article is that our deepest fears center around either a fear of a lack of safety or a fear of failure (shame). Every fear and weakness we have centers around those primal terrors. I am in danger of being killed or hurt in some physical way or people are going to see me as a total failure. Homelessness frightens some because they cannot imagine the lack of security. Others fear homelessness because people will see them as poor and shameful. Either way, every human grapples with these two deeply ingrained instincts.
And then God comes in and He gives up His safety so we might be saved, and He relinquishes His honor to take on our shame.
God is born as a baby in a stable to a poor couple who then must go on the run from a murderous ruler. Jesus, the man, has no home in which to lay His head. He then suffers a gruesome whipping and death. This is the vulnerability of God to the terrifying dangers of the day. The point is made that He could have sent for angels to halt his execution. But He did not.
We are so afraid of injury and deprivation. I know that I am, at least. Apparently, women suffer from this fear a bit more than men. Estrogen results in a need for security while testosterone blunts it. But who is more vulnerable to disease, poverty, and early death than a baby? I think of the young Syrian boy washed up on the shores of Greece. Or the countless starving children around the world, victims of war, injustice, and greed. And then Jesus as a baby, hunted by Herod. It boggles my mind that God, whose main attributes are omnipotence and omniscience, would face the worst perils from infancy to adulthood than humans can face.
And that doesn’t even touch the second core vulnerability, shame. When I was in kindergarten, I stole a marshmallow bunny from the basket of another child and bit its head clean off. I still remember the horror of my mother with a bit of cringing. Such a little crime. And I wasn’t even at the age of accountability.
But the fear of rejection, the fear of being shamed or failing or just looking stupid drives us to ridiculous lengths. We erect false fronts because we are afraid. What if someone gets to know us and then decides we aren’t worth it? Sometimes that kind of rejection can take decades to get over. We people please or bluff our way into relationships without ever revealing who we really are.
But Jesus showed us the very nature of God. He took no for an answer humbly. He did not apologize for who He was. Even the Bible contains no justification for God. He does not try to prove that He exists. He does not explain His actions in self-defense. He uses vulnerable metaphors to explain how He feels about us. He is father, mother, brother, husband, and lover.
And in return, we exposed Him to the worst public ridicule and betrayal that one can suffer. Judas betrays Him with a kiss, and humanity convicts Him as a liar, then hangs Him on a cross on a thoroughfare with a sign above His head mocking Him as king of the Jews. The trial, the crowds crying Barrabbas, and the religious and governmental heads hand Jesus over to His fate to a dishonorable end.
And then Jesus goes to hell. Who knows what kind of horrors and shame lurk there? Hundreds of thousands of people claim to have had near-death experiences. Some recount going to Heaven; some refuse to discuss it. But a few will admit to going to hell. I knew a pastor who had gone to hell after he had been in a car accident. Well, he wasn’t a pastor at the time, but he sure came around once he got a second chance at life. But Jesus takes the ultimate penalty, the ultimate shame, and rejection by God, Himself.
I don’t even understand how that works. God went to hell for me in the person of Jesus Christ. Talk about a mystery.
So what about all this? The vulnerability of God is for the Christian the new mode of operation. We love our enemies. We turn the other cheek, go the extra mile. We feed the poor, give help to the helpless, love the unlovely. If we move with the same meekness of spirit in which Jesus moved, we too will be mocked. The world admires a winner, someone who takes control. But God hands over control to us every day.
Here is my love, my abundant life, the power of my Holy Spirit, He says to us. Will you follow me? And then He waits for our answer. To follow Him is to be vulnerable to the sorrows of this world, as He mourns the lost. To follow Him is to be vulnerable in giving, of ourselves, our wealth, our need for acceptance and safety.
But those of us on the Calvary road know the real secret. To die is gain; to live is Christ. The safety and recognition the world offers is fool’s gold. We want the real treasure.
Some books that reoriented the way I conceive of vulnerability:
As an Amazon affiliate, I make a small commission of purchases you make at no cost to you.