God and Vulnerability

I’m writing a lecture for a presentation that I’m giving in Cleveland later this month on disability. Here is the primary question with which I’m wrestling: What does it mean that God chose human vulnerability as the medium through which all creation would be saved? 

Consider, for example, the hymn of Philippians 2:5-11. Christ had the form of God, but did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped onto for his own gain. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave. This is clearest biblical statement of “kenotic” theology, a term that comes from the Greek word kenosis, “emptying.” It is in this act of self-emptying, of humbling himself, and becoming “obedient to the point of death–even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8), that God and creation are reconciled.
In the Incarnation, God takes on human vulnerability, and through that vulnerability brings reconciliation. What does this mean, then, for our understanding of human beings, for our theological anthropology? Among other things, we can say that the most vulnerable people in this world can inform our understanding of God in a way that no one else can. For example, we can learn about God and come to know God by being in community with people with profound cognitive disabilities (as Jean Vanier has taught us). It means, moreover, that without the presence of such people, our understanding of God is impoverished.
From this Christological perspective, vulnerability is the most important aspect of being human. It is the quintessentially human attribute. The more we deny this, the more we deny our God-given humanity. The more we de-value the most vulnerable people in this world, the more we set our values over against God’s.

As you can probably tell, I’m still working through these ideas. Any thoughts? Help? Where am I going wrong? What am I missing? I’d appreciate your feedback. 

8 thoughts on “God and Vulnerability

  1. Rebecca, as Sarah pointed out above, there are all kinds of directions one could take this line of thinking. My primary concern in writing the post was with people with cognitive disabilities, but there are certainly other groups of people for whom this understanding of humanity would be immediately helpful, were more Christians to adopt it.

  2. The “original temptation” was to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil so “you will be like God.” Valuing (overvaluing) knowledge, then, is the product of giving into this temptation. Relying on ourselves is a byproduct, because we think we know enough to be independent and self-reliant. People with severe and profound disabilities know they need to rely on others. There is no value given to intellect or independence, because they are not aware and incapable of being independent. What this has taught me is that it's a fallacy that any of us are strong and independent. We all depend on God for everything. Intellect might be a human trait for most of us, but it also can separate us from God. What I have learned from children with severe disabilities is twofold—-that intellect is far less important than kindness and that if I can love these “weakest” people, then God can love me, even with all my weaknesses and faults. Giving up the pursuit of intellect and independence necessarily leads one back to God = reconciliation.

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