Jesus Christ is the strongest person every to walk the face of the planet. That statement is inarguable if you believe, as I do, that Jesus was God Incarnate. The one God, creator and sustainer of all things, in the form of man must be the strongest man there ever was because who could be stronger than God?
Yet Jesus chose to exhibit his strength in sacrifice. Whether it was choosing to go hungry in the desert when tempted to the contrary by the Evil One, or His trial before Pontius Pilate, Jesus, as Paul put it, “…did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself….”
We often associate strength with athletic prowess, yet it is the apparent underdog that we love so much. My adored, not to mention alma mater, Butler Bulldogs 2011 run to the final game of the NCAA basketball tourney is a story that captured the nation. Underdog when they did the same thing the year before they lost their best player to the NBA and did it again! They demonstrated that strength is not always apparent in physicality or rhetoric. Peyton Manning in the playoffs just concluded was a shadow of the Peyton Manning that took the Colts to Super Bowl victory, but he got the job done. It is not his arm that is his strength as a quarterback. And more than the Super Bowl victory, the nation adored his conference championship victory over the obsessive braggart and much-stronger-on-paper Tom Brady.
It has been my pleasure to travel extensively. I love visiting old walled cites and fortresses. They are enormous and massive. They look so strong. The fact that they have lasted through centuries, in some cases millenia, makes them appear to exude strength. Yet the Blitzkrieg ran over the vaunted Maginot Line like it did not exist and General Patton famously said, “Fixed fortifications are a monument to the stupidity of man.” Strength is not always where it appears to be.
The strong man will become tinder,
His work also a spark.
Thus they shall both burn together
And there will be none to quench them.
I think it is fair to say that strength is often not where we perceive it to be. In point of fact, Isaiah seems to be indicating that where we typically see strength there can be weakness. Apparent strength often invites conflict and and as General Patton continued his statement on fortifications he pointed out that “anything built by man can be destroyed by man,” thus exposing weakness where strength was thought to reside.
On paper the United States is the strongest nation on the planet, and in history. But it seems plain our enemies see weakness, or else we would not suffer the indignities, and far worse, we have suffered. So it must not be our military, industrial and economic might that actually makes us strong. Our strength must lie in something else.
I think that something else is our national character, or at least what our national character used to be.
The Apostle Paul tells us that proven character results in hope. But more faith tells us that our hopes will be fulfilled. Character producing hope and faith that our hope will be realized – these are the things that make America strong. But they do not exist in isolation. Character that produces hope comes from perseverance in the face of adversity. Faith? Well, faith is given to us by God – the God that chose to express His strength in sacrifice.
We cannot inherit character and faith, we have to earn them or ask for them. We have inherited the outward manifestations of strength, but the real strength, the genuine strength that can change the world, that we have to appropriate for ourselves.
So many pundits have said that this election is a search for strength. Maybe it is, but if we are looking to the election, we are looking in the wrong place. No elected official can make us strong, we have to make ourselves strong, with a lot of help from God.