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3. Personal limitations
One of the paradoxes of being engaged in Christian living is that the person, may frequently experience severe personal limitations and weakness.
The biblical record contains evidence of the leaders of God’s people experiencing feelings of personal limitation. Moses, in the face of God’s call to lead the children of Israel into liberation from Egypt, felt utterly incapable of being the spokesman and representative of his People to pharaoh. Another example is that of Isaiah, who experienced a sense of deep unworthiness before the vision of a holy God. Also, Jeremiah believed, like Moses, that he was not gifted in such a way as he thought would be appropriate for the particular nature of God‘s call for him.
Recent studies in Christology have placed heavy emphasis on the humanity of Jesus. While these studies, it may be argued, overlook the reality of the divinity of Jesus, they have heightened our contemporary awareness of the full humanness of Jesus which has tended to be at least partly obscured by traditional Christology with its one-sided emphasis on the divinity of Christ. Because of this emphasis on the divinity of Christ, the relevance of New Testament material attesting the human limitation and experience of Jesus to the ministry of his followers is more apparent.
In Matthew, chapters 8 and 9, Jesus was unable to cater to the needs of the crowds and escaped across the lake from them. He pointed out to a scribe that to follow him was to step out into insecurity and to share his fate.
Jesus perceived the needs of the crowds were so great that there would be a continuing need over the coming days, and years, for more disciples in order that the crowds might receive effective ministry. He felt the pressure of his limitations.
A somewhat similar experience of personal limitation is described by the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians. The discovery of spiritual power coincidental with physical suffering is described as a humiliation, feelings of inadequacy, and all forms of suffering, as powerful instruments revealing the presence of God.
The credibility of Christian living is at stake if it is assumed that such leaders should be perfect and invulnerable creatures – persons “apart.” The validity of a theology operating upon such an assumption would be highly questionable. It is worth recalling that the gospel has been communicated in spite of the frailty of human flesh. God is able to communicate through sensual, fragile and destructible flesh; ‘We have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us.’
For the apostle Paul, power in ministry was experienced in terms of dependence upon the sovereign Lord. In Paul’s understanding, the attributes of his ministry had more to do with an ‘unprofessional’ understanding of ministry, as that word is usually understood. Paul considered that the effectiveness of his ministry could not be accounted for in terms of his personal skills, his eloquence, his confidence or any such factor; rather his own performance in ministry was seen by him to be a stumbling demonstration of his incapacity to minister effectively, when contrasted with the power of the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). Paul was very aware of his own weakness (the ‘thorn in the flesh’, 2 Corinthians 12:7-9; his difficulty in writing, Galatians 6:11; his confrontations with difficulty in writing, Galatians 6:11; his confrontations withy opponents in the church, Galatians 2 and 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, 4: 11-13).
The amazing fact is that the gospel is communicated through that which is human finite, and despite sin and illness. The word of God has been powerfully communicated in spite of Davit’s sensual life (2 Samuel 12), Elijah’s weariness (1 Kings 19), Jeremiah’s sense of burden (Jeremiah 20:7-10), Ezekiel’s probable schizophrenia (Ezekiel 1:1), Timothy’s digestive problems (1 Timothy 5:23), as well as Francis of Assisi’s profligate youth, Luther’s self-doubts, and Kierkegaard’s and J. B. Phillips’ depressions. It may be that those who acknowledge their place in the midst of suffering humanity are even better equipped to live the gospel that those who compulsively – strive for perfection.
Thus there is no theological justification for an understanding of Christian living being undertaken by peculiar human beings who are beyond mental, spiritual or emotional conflict. On the other hand the realization that human limitation and weakness may be viewed as an ingredient of, rather than a barrier to effective living is a very liberating one.