Redeeming Vulnerability

The kingdom of heaven is about vulnerability.

Jesus came to redeem the idea of vulnerability and to change our minds about its viability.

Consider how many times when Jesus was on earth that He went through circumstances or told stories that would challenge our ideas about vulnerability.

More than once when the disciples found themselves in a life-threatening storm on the Sea of Galilee, they experienced intense vulnerability, something they did not like or want to face. Yet Jesus allowed them to experience that so as to teach them to always bring Him into the equation and to learn to trust in His love and power so as to overcome fear in every such situation.

When thousands of people found themselves very hungry with no way to obtain food readily, they felt very vulnerable which often leads people to become angry or resentful or to look for someone to blame. Jesus led them through that experience to teach that being vulnerable in this way should not upset our trust in God as our sure provider and that we need not worry but rather should thank God even before there is food available.

A woman caught in adultery was flung down before Jesus with disgust by a group of pious, self-righteous religious people who thrived on exploiting the vulnerabilities of others. They hoped not only to bring shame and harm to this woman (who well may have been a woman Jesus had already been seeking to redeem and salvage which would have made her even more so a target of their hatred), but they were intending to also exploit the vulnerability of Jesus to their own advantage. Yet in this situation Jesus refused to exploit not only her vulnerability but also that of her accusers. It would have been very easy for Him to expose their sins and discredit them before their deceived admirers, but instead He protected the guilty from exposure and shame on both sides. Something very similar happened at Simon's feast with the woman who washed His feet.

Jesus' entire life was a demonstration of living vulnerably yet without fear as He demonstrated how constant and implicit trust in God and His goodness is the best way to live, even with danger and shame all around us. Jesus never allowed shame to displace or even ruffle His own secure identity. Each day He connected with and reinforced His sense of personal identity by communing with His heavenly Father to prepare Him to successfully meet overwhelming odds each day.

Of course the cross of Jesus is the ultimate demonstration of vulnerability while trusting God. Jesus encountered all the violence and unfair treatment heaped on Him by sinners and demons alike without once resisting or even having a thought of resentment or desire for retaliation. Only agape love can empower a person to live such a way, but that is the whole point of the cross. The cross was the grand exposé of all time to prove conclusively that living vulnerably is not only preferable but even necessary to live harmony with the principles of life and reality as God has designed them.

A great temptation for Jesus while here on earth was to shrink back from living vulnerably. The principle of selfishness, survival at the expense of others as the satanic theory of evolution promotes as the necessary foundation of existence, was soundly refuted by the life and death of Jesus. By choosing to be vulnerable instead of defensive or aggressive to protect His own life, Jesus exposed the foundations of evolution and selfishness as being a fraud. Evolution is predicated on selfishness as the norm for all life while Jesus demonstrated that real life is based on selfless servant attitudes rather than dominance and self-protection.

God vindicated the witness of Jesus that living vulnerably is the only right way to live in harmony with God's creation by raising Him from the dead. The resurrection is God's exposing as fraud the entire system of exploitation and anti-vulnerability. Satan's system leads us to believe that vulnerability is bad and that we must resort to self-protection at times. The world may acknowledge that love is good as far as it can go, but when things get too dangerous we are forced to resort to self-defense to protect our life at the expense of others.

But Jesus taught that unless we are willing to lay down our life we will in the end lose it. This does not infer that our life will be taken from us by God forcibly; rather it means that by living in fear and selfishness leads us to make our own existence a higher priority than others but will only bring us destruction in the end. Sin is self-defeating by its own inherent nature and in the end will self-destruct. All who refuse to be healed and cleansed of this infection will find themselves trapped in the destruction when sin finally caves in on itself.

The essence of sin is the exploitation of vulnerability. This can be seen in both the exploitation of the vulnerability of our first parents and again in the exploitation of the willing vulnerability of our Savior at the cross. Jesus came to reveal not only to us but to all the universe that vulnerability is the only safe atmosphere in which God's eternal kingdom can be secure. In fact, God made Himself vulnerable in the form of Jesus the human Son of God – the very opposite of what Satan accused God of being like. Anything less than living vulnerably destroys the delicate climate, the ambience needed for agape love to thrive.

This is not to say that love cannot exist unless there is full vulnerability in which it can thrive. But it does demonstrate that for love to have its way in our own heart and for it to transform us into reflecting perfectly the character of the God who created us, we must make similar choices to what Jesus did while here on earth to allow ourselves to become fully vulnerable in order to enter into true life.

It seems counterintuitive to us to imagine that vulnerability might lead toward a greater, more elevated way of life. We have been preconditioned to believe that vulnerability is a bad thing we should avoid. Vulnerability is usually associated in our minds with pain and fear and shame, all things we want to avoid. Jesus was no different in this respect and He had to constantly choose between avoiding these things or choosing the path of remaining vulnerable. In this way He was tempted in all ways as we are, yet without sin. Sin means choosing the path of self-protection at the expense of others when facing vulnerable situations. Sin means taking things into our own hands when we fear God is not coming through the way we want Him to to protect us or preserve our lives or maintain our comfort.

Whatever is not of faith is sin. That means that when we find ourselves in situations of vulnerability, when we choose to turn away from trusting God to look for 'better' solutions to save us, we have chosen to make another god a higher priority than resting in God's love and care of us.

Possibly the biggest reason that people turn away from following Jesus happens when they begin to realize that it requires becoming more vulnerable. Most of us like many things associated with being a Christian, the wonderful miracles of deliverance and healing and learning cool things we didn't know before. But when we begin to be aware that all of these things are meant to lead us to trust God fully when we are faced with exploiters bent on taking advantage of our vulnerabilities, and that very possibly God just might allow them to do so, suddenly following the path of Jesus into such danger becomes far less attractive.

Jesus faced that temptation too. We are told that when faced with the horrendous potential of all the shame and pain and humiliation and unimaginable suffering that the cross would bring Him, Jesus had to choose between self-protection or going through all He was facing knowing that God would not step in to intervene or prevent any of the exploitation that He would suffer. Only divine love has the power to take anyone into the face of exploitation with all its attending negative emotions without being diverted by the powerful urges of fallen sinful nature. It was in this sense that Jesus took on our fallen sinful nature, for in taking on sinful humanity He fully experienced all the urges for survival and self-protection and the same desires to avoid being vulnerable that we experience. What amplified the temptations was that Jesus had to face all of this with full awareness that He had infinite resources of power at His disposal beyond what any of us have ever imagined, yet with this awareness He choose at all times to never leverage His advantage to diminish His own vulnerability in the slightest.

I am starting to see clearly that vulnerability is possibly at the root of the war between Christ and Satan. Satan from the beginning operated on the premise that being vulnerable is not a good thing and that the vulnerability of heaven before sin was in fact a liability rather than a necessity and a blessing. He was able to convince one third of the angels of this idea, and the rest is the history of Satan's exploitation of both heaven's vulnerabilities as well as those of this earth.

By plunging right into the heart of Satan's kingdom of exploitation and choosing to make Himself fully vulnerable to everything Satan could throw at Him, Jesus defeated and disarmed the power that Satan's theories had created to deceive us and frighten us away from embracing God's way of living in full transparency and vulnerability. Jesus showed everyone that God's original design for living in full vulnerability is the only way that is safe even in the midst of sin and intimidation and fear. By doing so Jesus exposed every argument and accusation of Satan to show the superior power of living in love while trusting God to coordinate everything for ultimate good.

Living vulnerable requires that we also believe in the full extent of God's goodness and be set free of all the insinuations about any dark side of God that Satan has implanted into our minds. It will be impossible for us to trust God like Jesus did unless we also embrace the truth about the non-violent, totally selfless, purely loving and serving nature of God's character that is free of any hint of exploitation or desire for revenge. As long as we harbor any of the insinuations of Satan about a dark spot hidden somewhere in God's character, we will shrink back from confidence that God can be fully trusted even when our circumstances scream that we must take self-preservation into our own hands.

Jesus was repeatedly threatened with harm and death, not to mention shame, hunger and everything else that tries to intimidate us from trusting God. Yet passing through all the experiences that tempt us to distrust God and doubt His way of living free and vulnerable, Jesus demonstrated to the extreme that God can indeed be trusted even when He may allow us to suffer instead of delivering us at times. By entrusting Himself to the only one who judges fairly, Jesus showed us the narrow path to life that leads all who follow it back to a kingdom where everyone lives joyfully together in full vulnerability. For without complete vulnerability love cannot fully dominate and there will always be a danger of the reemergence of sin.

Just becoming aware of these things creates tension in our minds even as we grapple with the implications of what this means to us personally. This is the same dawning awareness that drove the majority of disciples to turn away from following Jesus when the things He began teaching exposed this part of living in His kingdom. They were longing for a kingdom based on force and power that would be potent enough to overwhelm their enemies for the advantage of the Jews. But God's kingdom never resorts to force, for to do so is to create a situation of superiority to exploit another's relative weakness. Any use of force to compel the will of anyone is a violation of heaven's principle of freedom, and violating freedom is exploitation which is the essence of sin. Therefore, when the Jews began to realize that Jesus was not likely going to set up a kingdom like the ones we prefer here on earth, but rather was introducing a kingdom where everyone would be completely vulnerable in love, the attractions of following Him suddenly turned sour in their hearts and their desire to prefer living under the principles of force and power caused them to reject the Prince of Peace.

Each one of us now faces a similar choice. At first the kingdom of God seems attractive as we see all the exciting benefits of living a life filled with joy and happiness and peace. But as we begin to see that all of these things can only thrive and flourish in the context of vulnerability, our lifelong assumption that vulnerability is a bad thing begins to raise serious doubts. Our fears of potential pain and shame if we choose to live vulnerably blinds us to the greater glory of living in selfless love as God lives, and so we too are tempted to choose the kingdom of Satan over the kingdom of vulnerable love.

There are two competing principles at war in the universe, and every person must come to choose which principle will govern their own life and choices and relationships. In the beginning it may appear they are not that different, but as we begin to grasp the implications of the direction of each path it becomes clear that either we must live vulnerable in love while trusting God, or if we choose the opposite path we will sooner or later sink into becoming full-blown exploiters, for this is the end result of following the path of selfishness.

It is impossible for one to move toward the kingdom of light and glory that is based on living vulnerably while thinking we can avoid the suffering and shame that will come from attacks by those choosing to remain in the kingdom of darkness and selfishness. When sin is eompletely vanquished it will once again be possible to live free of all pain, shame and death. But as long as we live in the war zone where the two principles contend for our allegiance, the kingdom of selfishness will compel those living under its tyranny to resent, hate and persecute all who choose the path of vulnerable love and non-violent peace. The only way we can successfully navigate the path into God's kingdom is to believe in the true non-violent nature of the God we follow. Only as we see God as identical in character to the vulnerable Jesus who walked this earth can we discover the confidence and strength to follow a similar path that will lead us through similar suffering, humiliation and possibly even death.

Yet through all of these things we are more than conquerors as Paul exclaimed. This requires a complete paradigm shift, a whole new perspective about reality, not just an adjustment of religious beliefs or some behavior modification. We need new hearts and new minds to connect us to the God who provides everything we need to live in love and to overcome our fear of living vulnerably. We must have the antidote to selfishness infused into our very beings by the One who perfected that antidote when He walked this earth as a human like us. He accomplished perfecting that antidote by trusting His Father and making Himself fully vulnerable all the way to the point of death on a cross.

There is no safety for one who has merely a legal religion, a form of godliness. The Christian's life is not a modification or improvement of the old, but a transformation of nature. There is a death to self and sin, and a new life altogether. This change can be brought about only by the effectual working of the Holy Spirit. {DA 172}

What are some of the immediate implications of this in my own life and church? How might embracing this truth impact how we do evangelism? How much of our evangelism techniques tend to exploit others instead of allowing ourselves to be vulnerable? Interestingly it was Jesus' vulnerability that made Him attractive to many of those drawn to follow Him, not flaunting superiority of power or good looks or cunning skills. It was the fact that He lived real, not fake like most of the other religious leaders, that drew around Him low-life characters such as prostitutes and drunkards to want to know Him better and discover what made Him tick. Yet in reality, living real requires living vulnerably, which is likely why those who were already feeling quite vulnerable felt He could identify with them. On the other hand, those caught up with religious obsessions saw Jesus as totally out of touch.

What will happen when we decide to be vulnerable in our marriage relationships or with our children instead of trying to always stay in control and trying to force our will on others? Does this mean we should let our young children exploit our weaknesses and not teach them self-control, maybe even through stern measures at times? I recall that Jesus sometimes had to be very stern and straight with those He dealt with, yet He never failed to maintain love and compassion as His underlying attitude. He could deal gently and yet very firmly with those who were wandering, but living in love was always the paradigm that governed every action and word and thought that came from Him.

The possibilities would be endless if we allowed ourself to take these things seriously. But then isn't that God's intention? Jesus promised that He would sent His Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth. That means that the Spirit is given to each one of us to lead us in real-time through choices and situations we will face and prompt us as to the right way to view things and to perceive heaven's way of successfully living in vulnerable love while looking out for others welfare.

The New Testament is filled with instructions and advice as to what this looks like. We are to consider others better than ourselves, to submit to one another in deference and love, to encourage and assist and even reprove and admonish when necessary. But all of this is to be done in an atmosphere of loving vulnerability where all may feel safe to confess their faults and receive healing in the atmosphere of grace.

I believe that the early New Testament believers shared a level of vulnerability in their tight community not seen since sin entered the world. Filled with the Holy Ghost they exhibited the characteristics and lifestyle of what the whole world could be like if more chose to follow the ways of Jesus. By opening up themselves fully to be vulnerable instead of hiding in fear or defensiveness and self-protection, they discovered a life of real freedom as they learned to all submit to each other and serve each other in passion and joy. It was a life that seemed impossible, yet as each person trusted in a saving, transforming connection to God through their own dependence on Christ, they all were brought into full unity of faith and love while experiencing a level of vulnerability that made them attractive to all who longed for such an atmosphere in which to heal and thrive.

Those who reject the idea of vulnerability as heaven's way to live will be repulsed by such a community and will see it as a threat. Indeed it is a threat to a world governed by force and deception and intimidation, for it begins to dissolve the very glue that holds the world together as it is operated currently. Yet the kingdom of God that Jesus came to initiate is the only realistic lifestyle that can outlast every counterfeit and in the end it will be seen that living vulnerable in love is the only way we can live fully satisfied, for this way of life that is based on the template on which humans were made.

Sin has perverted and distorted and abused God's original design for life, but Jesus came to restore us back to perfect humanity and to salvage all who are willing to be brought back into harmony with God's original design. Now it is up to us individually as to whether we will embrace the ways of God which also involves complete vulnerability and selfless love, or whether we will cling to the counterfeit system of self-preservation at all cost. Choose today who you will serve, whether God as revealed in Jesus or some other philosophy that leads away from God and from life.

What can give us the courage to live life vulnerably? That must be a topic for another exploration.


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