My father and I have an ongoing discussion on the relative merits and limitations of selling things on Craigslist versus selling them on eBay. Usually it boils down to this: Craigslist is faster, eBay is more secure. This past weekend I had my second Craigslist “no show.” That’s where someone agrees to meet you and buy something, but then they fail to show up. It’s a real hassle, but it comes with the territory. As I was sitting there, waiting, I began to consider the perspective of the person who fails to show up. I said to my wife, “Maybe they had to go to the hospital. Or maybe they lost their cell phone.” I’m not so naïve to believe that either of those is likely, but I started to think about something we like very little as human beings—we hate letting other people down. We don’t like to give bad news, we don’t like to tell someone what they don’t want to hear, and we don’t like to admit it when we fail to do what we said we were going to do in the first place. We’d rather fail, not talk about it, and then pretend it never happened.
This is just as true for our faith journey as anywhere else in life. Consider Saul, Israel’s first king in the Bible. We read over several chapters (1 Samuel 13-16) of various incidents where Saul has disobeyed God’s clear instruction to him. Each time that he is confronted with this reality, Saul tries to change the subject. He tries to twist the discussion in order to show how he wasn’t really disobedient. You see, just like we don’t want to admit to other people when we’ve done wrong, we make just as much effort in avoiding that conversation with God. We’d rather prove how what we did was right—even if only on a technicality—than admit where we failed.
We all recognize the problems inherent in this sort of dynamic. What if the other person agrees with us—they say yes, technically you are right. What will the relationship be like then? Will it be one built on trust? I think that’s unlikely. Instead, we’ll be the person who always has an answer and never takes responsibility. So, how do we find a way forward? As I said before, we don’t like admitting we’re wrong! We don’t like telling someone else what they don’t want to hear! How do we get over that? How do we surpass our displeasure with being wrong (or our displeasure with being uncomfortable)? In order to get there, we have to embrace our weakness. We have to understand that yes, we are indeed fallible, and that yes, we are going to have to do things that we don’t like doing.
I think that was the situation in which the Apostle Paul found himself in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. There Paul recounts how he was faced with a “thorn.” We don’t know what it was, and I’m suspect of anyone who claims to know. What we do know is that it was bad enough that Paul makes his case to God numerous times for this thorn to be removed. What he finds is that God’s response is not to remove the thorn, but to promise His own grace—that God’s grace is sufficient, and that His power is made perfect in weakness. Note that—it’s only in our weakness that God’s power is made perfect. So, yes, there are times and challenges that reveal our inability to do certain things—but it is only in our inability that God’s ability shines through.