God's power, though, is really quite different. God's power is absolute - complete - and unshakeable. There's no debating - no avoiding, no struggles. Scripture and tradition point us to the fact that God's will comes to be - no matter what. Sure, there are some thinkers and theologians who may not agree, but I'm going to stand behind Karl Rahner on this one. So there is, in our tradition, an absolute-ness to our understanding of God's power. Basically, what God wants to happen is going to happen.
And yet - we get this part of 2 Corinthians coming up this Sunday:
[But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me...] To read the whole text for Sunday, click here.
Perhaps the central part of this pericope is this: "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." In other words, God is saying to Paul - "Relax. You're covered by my mercy - my help - my love. Because my power is made perfect in your weakness." Also - your power - not so interesting - unless it comes from God.
Years ago, as I was discerning a call to the priesthood, I remember hearing this text and giving thanks for it. Sometimes in the Christian life - perhaps every time we feel like God has called us to something (any kind of ministry, regardless of ordination) - we can't understand why God is talking to us. In fact, it's a common theme in scripture. We're in good company, it's not just Paul. There's Isaiah, Jonah, Ezekiel, Noah, and the list goes on... Maybe that's because there is something so precious about this call from God that it is inevitably hard to believe, hard to come to, hard to follow. But this particular passage is good news for us. It reminds us that God knows that we aren't perfect. God knows that we don't have all the answers - and that we won't always get it right (God even knows that a lot of the time we're probably going to get it wrong...).
The point is that if we keep the Spirit in us, if we return to worship and prayer - if we ground ourselves in scripture and tradition - while allowing our experience of God and the world around us to lead us forward - then God will be with us. And God's grace will cover us. And God's power - absolute and perfect as it is - will shine through us in our weakness. In all of our humanity. In all of our frailty and shortcomings. And especially in those pieces of ourselves that might look like weakness to the outside world -- our kindness, our desire to forgive, our willingness to turn the other cheek, and our profound desire to love our neighbors.
So in both cases - when we're weak cause we didn't get it right - and when we look weak to the world around us - we can rejoice because God's goodness will live in us - and strengthen us to do the work we've been given to do. It's not intended to let us off the hook, so don't read it that way. But it is intended to remind us that God's power is absolute. There's not a thing we can do to stand in the way of it, to screw it up, or to slow it down. And sometimes - when a situation might look one way to the folks around us, God knows better - and what God wants to happen - will happen. It's the best news, I think. And that's real power. The grace, mercy, and love of the living God in you - all the time.