What Vulnerability Creates

I have been thoroughly enjoying Richard Beck lately. I read his book on the Slavery of Death and found it to be challenging and compelling. He discusses at length the linkage between vulnerability, understanding our frailty, embracing our mortality and the possibility of love marking our relationships. Check out what he has to say.

“Notice in Acts 4 that there were “no needy persons among them.” Why? Because they shared with “anyone one who had need.” The expression of neediness in the community allowed the economy of love to flow. But in churches in America and other places where affluence poses special problems, the situation is very different. These cultures are enslaved to the fear of death and death avoidance holds serious sway. In these cultures the expression of need is taboo and pornographic. What results is neurotic image-management, the pressure to be “fine.” The perversity here is that on the surface American churches do look like the church in Acts 4 – there are “no needy persons” among us. We all appear to be doing just fine, thank you very much.

But we know this to be a sham, a collective delusion driven by the fear of death. I’m really not fine and neither are you. But you are afraid of me and I’m afraid of you. We are neurotic about being vulnerable with each other. We fear exposing our need and failure to each other. And because of this fear – the fear of being needy within a community of neediness – the witness of the church is compromised. A collection of self-sustaining and self-reliant people – people who are all pretending to be fine – is not the Kingdom of God. It’s a church built upon the delusional anthropology we described earlier. Specifically, a church where everyone is “fine” is a group of humans refusing to be human beings and pretending to be gods. Such a “church” is comprised of fearful people working hard to keep up appearances and unable to trust each other to the point of loving self-sacrifice. In such a “church” each member is expected to be self-sufficient and self-sustaining, thus making no demands upon others. Unfortunately, where there is no need and no vulnerability, there can be no love.”

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The Power of Vulnerability

Vulnerability…even the word seems weak. Researcher Brene Brown has devoted her life’s work to changing our perspective on vulnerability. She argues that the most powerful, meaningful, and valuable things in life are connected to vulnerability. She defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. By her definition life is fundamentally vulnerable. All of our relationships are vulnerable. All of our big life choices, changes and dreams are vulnerable.

She is right, weakness is actually denying our vulnerability. Weakness is pretending your bullet proof and untouched by your fragility. She states that “vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.” I think she is on to something. C.S. Lewis captured this theme years ago when he made this important observation about love.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

The best things in life contain the risk of pain…it is courageous to know this and pursue these things anyway.

Divine Transparency

In the previous post we discussed the safety of the divine community. In this post,  I would like to look a little deeper into one dimension of a safe community. Meaningful relationships are always marked by transparency, openness and vulnerability. Again, if the Triune God is the blueprint for all relationships we might expect to find some of these dynamics within that community. Sure enough, we do. I want to briefly explore three texts that touch on these overlapping themes.

  • “For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11).

Astonishing, this passage gives us a glimpse into the Triune relationship. The Spirit searches, explores and inquires into the thoughts of the Father. He journeys the heights and depths of God himself. The language is relational. The Father is welcoming, open and transparent. The Spirit responds to the openness of the Father with investigative energy. The Spirit is privy to the thoughts of God…he knows them all.

  • “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27).

The Father has an intimate knowledge of the Spirit’s mind. Unintelligible groanings to us are clear to the Father because he knows the thoughts of the Spirit. The unity of will and purpose between the Father and Spirit is foundational to this mutual understanding. The text is relational once again. This divine knowing is something that seems to require openness on the part of the Father and Spirit. Though completely equal in omniscience…there appears to be some mechanism of divine sharing that facilitates this knowledge.

  • “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27).

Exclusive knowledge of the Father belongs to the Son. Exclusive knowledge of the Son belongs to the Father. This text brilliantly displays the intimacy of the Godhead. God alone knows God. The Father gives the Son total access and vice versa. Revelation…a gracious introduction of the Father through the Son by the Spirit…is the only way one comes to know God.

All three of these texts hint at openness, transparency and vulnerability in Trinitarian interaction. Father, Son and Holy Spirit willingly allow the other respective persons into the fulness of themselves. They truly see one another and are seen by one another.

Another way of getting at this mystery is the doctrine of perichoresis, which has been defined as “co-indwelling, co-inhering, and mutual interpenetration.” Alister McGrath writes that it “allows the individuality of the persons to be maintained, while insisting that each person shares in the life of the other two. An image often used to express this idea is that of a ‘community of being,’ in which each person, while maintaining its distinctive identity, penetrates the others and is penetrated by them.”

This doctrine is rooted in Scripture that uses the language of “in” when discussing how the Father, Son and Spirit are connected. For example, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves” (Jn 14:11). This is intimacy, openness and vulnerability at its very best.

The Safest Community

Relational safety is one of the greatest and yet rarest gifts in life. We’ve all felt the sting of betrayal from those we believed were safe. To be stabbed in the back requires closeness….that’s why it hurts so badly. It’s another matter altogether to take a gunshot wound from some stranger miles away. We were made for relationships and yet they are always risky endeavors. To be in relationship is to risk. I have been thinking about this dynamic from a theological perspective.

Theology lies at the root of relationship. It all starts with the Triune God. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit embody genuine relationship. God himself is the icon of true community, the blueprint for all relational interaction. The relationships between the three persons are marked by total trust, loyalty and love. In the divine community, trust has never been breached. Betrayal is non-existent. Vulnerability and transparency are common and without risk. This is the safest community.

Many have suggested that the “image of God” in Genesis has relational and communal dimensions. It’s hard to disagree with this assertion…we were clearly made for relationship and this is clearly anchored in the nature of the God who made us as image-bearers. We were made to know the wonder of a safe community…a place with no anxiety, no posturing, no self-justification, no fear—just peace, love, comfort, joy and the freedom to just be.

The fall, which has been more aptly described as a rupture, introduced tremendous risk into our relational dynamics. It destroyed our vertical relationship with God and our horizontal relationships with each other. Instead of safety, we experience fear and danger with each other.

Redemption is all about healing the rupture that has torn us and our world apart. The cross and resurrection speak of the God who is wounded that we might be healed. This gospel displays a deeply relational God who comes to reconcile all that has been divided. It is his suffering that creates a way back to him and makes fellowship with the Triune community possible once again.

Everyone aches for a safe community. By mimicking the way the Father, Son and Spirit relate to one another we bend this vertical fellowship horizontal. We provide pockets of safety for others. Pockets, which are foretastes of our future hope…perfect security with God and man on the new earth.