Americans, young American women especially, are obsessed with being “strong”. My oldest daughter will occasionally post song lyrics like “Even on my weakest days, I get a little be stronger…” In a youth group discussion about war and whether it’s ever justified, one of the kids talked about the need for the United States to look strong for the rest of the world. We are constantly bombarded with the idea that we must be “strong” or bad things will happen to us. Strength, it seems, is a primary American quality; one that should be pursued at all costs. That’s the way of the world, isn’t it? Yet, in multiple places throughout the Bible, we are encouraged to be “in the world, yet not of the world”. So, if strength is the way of the world, then the way of Christ has to be different, does it not? Jesus’s words in Matthew 5, 6 and 7 certainly seem to point that way. In the series of blessings that have become known as The Beatitudes, He turns the world upside down with what may be the most subversive thing he ever said.
In those eight short verses, Jesus says the way to happiness, to health, to security, to all the stuff we really want, doesn’t lie in boldness, strength and conquest; it lies in meekness, weakness and submission. It seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? We all know that the only way you can have all the things necessary for a happy and fulfilling life is by reaching out and taking it. I mean, that is the American Way. We’re taught from birth that we have to reach out and grab that brass ring if we want anything. Yet, here is Jesus saying just the opposite, that boldly grabbing what we want isn’t the way to get it. Why would He say that? Could it be because in our haste to get what we want, we tend to trample anyone who gets in our way? That our pursuit of more stuff (and keeping what stuff we already have) can become more important than anything else, even God? I believe he’s saying that what we really want is not security or happiness or any of those things we talk about, what we want is to be close to God. And, you can’t be strong enough, smart enough, good enough to do that. The Good News is that you don’t have to be any of that, you already are close to God. Or rather, God is close to you; the trick is to understand and accept that.
In his book Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals, Shane Claiborne said “Christianity is at its best when it is peculiar, marginalized, suffering, and it is at its worst when it is popular, credible, triumphal, and powerful.” I’d say that true for Christians, too. Remember that next time you start worrying about being “strong”.