As I write, I am battling a nasty cold. I am “puny,” as they like to say here in Mississippi. My body aches. My breathing is congested. My eyes are itchy and watering. Of course, I can take some pills, rest, and hydrate. But in the end, there’s nothing to be done but wait it out. The tiny bugs that have invaded my system will have their way with me, and I am powerless to prevent them. I can’t help wondering, now that I’m laid out, if one of the main uses of a viral infection in God’s economy is humility. Maybe a nasty cold is what it takes to prick the balloon of self-reliance I’ve busily been inflating with each sermon preached, each meeting led, and each parishioner helped. No matter how strong we begin to think we are, all it takes to knock us out are a few microscopic invaders laying siege to our immune system (as we have seen in the COVID-19 crisis). “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
To be sure, I have always confessed the doctrine of God’s omnipotence. He is almighty. He “does all that he pleases” (Ps. 115:3). With Jeremiah, I can say with gladness: “Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you” (Jer. 32:17). He is “the LORD, strong and mighty” (Ps. 24:8). All this I have believed and celebrated throughout my Christian life. But on days like today, my heart must face an ugly truth. Whatever I may say, whatever I may believe, I’ve lived as if I were strong enough, mighty enough, for the challenges of life. As if I am sufficient for every task. As if I am competent for my calling. But every true Christian should recoil at the arrogance of William Ernest Henley’s poem Invictus:
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
And yet, whenever we begin to rely on our own strength, whatever our lips may say about God’s power, we have begun to adopt Henley’s wicked stance. The message of the Christian gospel is not that Christ tops off our waning strength so that we can be and do all that we need or want. Rather, the message is that “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6). Christ is the “power of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). The omnipotent God who hung the stars (Ps. 147:4–5) and who delivered Israel by His great power (Ps. 106:8–10) daily calls us to learn the hard lesson of the Apostle Paul, to whom God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). Paul responded:
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (vv. 9–10)