God’s Powerful Weakness
Talk about a paradox or oxymoron. How can one refer to the God of the universe as weak? He who is omnipotent steps out of His omnipotence, and decides to take on the sin problem with the only weapon that can conquer it – love! Omnipotence had already taken a huge risk before sin entered by creating humans in His image, and by so doing gave them the power of free choice, which is an essential ingredient of love. Love without free choice smacks of control and abuse.
“God is love” (1 John 4:8; 16) indicates that God’s very nature sets us free to choose to love Him, or not. Love risks everything. “For God so loved . . . that He gave” Himself. When God the Son decides to become man, He does not stop being God, He simply chooses to limit His power by becoming defenseless or powerless in order to save sinful mankind. Paul refers to this as the “mystery of godliness” (1 Timothy 3:16 NKJV).
The process of this incarnation is beautifully described in Philippians 2:6-7 NLT: “Though He was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His divine privileges; He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being (my emphasis). He “gave up His divine privileges” or “emptied Himself” by choosing to step away from His omnipotent power and become like us, born in a stable as a defenseless human baby. He chose to risk putting His life in the hands of a teenage girl and her fiancé.
“This was a voluntary sacrifice. Jesus might have remained at the Father’s side. He might have retained the glory of heaven, and the homage of the angels. But He chose to give back the scepter into the Father’s hands, and to step down from the throne of the universe, that He might bring light to the benighted, and life to the perishing” (Ellen White, The Desire of Ages, pp. 22-23).
God in Christ was emptying or giving up His power, His throne, His omnipotence as it were, placing Himself in a position of helplessness or defenselessness, in order that He may be a “merciful and faithful High Priest” for us (Hebrews 2:17). “This defenselessness reaches its nadir on the cross where He is unable to save Himself [or so it seems – “He could have called ten thousand angels” (my insert)], where God is silent, and where free and rebellious man triumphs over God” (H. Berhof, Christian Faith, 142). God in Christ was not a helpless victim. He chose to give up His power. That’s powerful!
Philippians 2:8 NLT says, “When He appeared in human form, He humbled Himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” Isaiah 53:7-8a NET reports of Him that “He was treated harshly and afflicted, but He did not even open His mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughtering block, like a sheep silent before her shearers, He did not even open His mouth. He was led away after an unjust trial — but who even cared? This doesn’t sound like an omnipotent being. God in Christ chose to relinquish and put down His power, and take up the form of a human – despised and rejected, weak and defenseless.
Jesus “humbled Himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated Him to the place of highest honor and gave Him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:8-11 NLT). Herein lies the genius and wisdom of God. It is only in giving up His power that He is able to defeat the evil one and regain His power. After the victory of the cross, “Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18 NLT).
Hence the paradox. How can power be weakness, and weakness be powerful? God in Christ gave us the greatest teaching lesson in the incarnation. If you want to be powerful, then “take up your cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24 ESV).