Vulnerability (noun): the state of being susceptible to being wounded or hurt. (dictionary.com)
No wonder humans don’t generally choose to be vulnerable; nobody likes being “wounded or hurt” and to be vulnerable apparently means putting oneself out there for a beating. But this definition fails to mention the flipside; being vulnerable is also to be honest, to own who we are and how we feel and therefore is the state of being truly known, which is an essential step if we are to be truly accepted and truly loved.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
God made Himself vulnerable. “The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). He was willing to be fully known; the King of Kings and Creator of all became a babe wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger (Luke 2:12). He left himself open to hurt.
To rewind a little: In the beginning the world was great. God created paradise. And He was so closely connected to the inhabitants that he walked in the garden in the heat of the day. But God gave Adam and Eve a choice. In the middle of the garden was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and God instructed man; “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Gen 2:16-17) Even in the beginning God left Himself open to rejection. Eve ate. Adam ate. And they were ashamed and hid. Previously they had been ‘naked, and they felt no shame’ (Gen 2:25) [I love this! It doesn’t even say ‘yet they felt no shame’ but ‘and’ as though naked and shameless was a totally natural way to be. Because it was!] But once they had eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve realized their nakedness and hid, and humans have struggled with the realisation of who they truly are ever since.
The Bible is God making Himself known. Jesus’ most vulnerable moment is also the moment God is most fully revealed. As Jesus hung on the cross; mocked, stripped, tortured, naked, alone, He gave us a choice and a chance to be reconciled to the Father, if only we too would take up our cross and follow Him. To do this we have to be vulnerable: to let go of everything that hinders, including the pretence of self.
In John chapter 6, Jesus seems to be at the height of his ministry: He goes from feeding the 5,000 and healing the sick to walking on water and has gathered a large crowd. But then He tells the crowd He is not there to materially satisfy in the moment but to give them eternal life. Many did not like this teaching; “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (v66). In order to gain this eternal life the crowds had to rely on Jesus and it seemed too hard to be reliant on something other than themselves; to have to admit that they could not earn eternal life through the law, but only through God’s grace in sending Jesus. They could not bear to be vulnerable.
After the crowds have left, Jesus turns to his disciples; “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.” (v67) Can you imagine how Jesus felt at this moment? He has performed miracles, He has fed thousands, He was followed by hundreds. But the following were more like spectators or glory supporters. They were not following Jesus for who He was but what He could do. They had walked away. The crowds had missed the point, and now He was asking his twelve closest friends, were they too about to abandon Him?
Like Adam and Eve, the crowd and the disciples, we have a choice. We can either continue to be self reliant, or we can turn to God. And just as God knew all that Adam and Eve were attempting to hide so He knows us. All of us. Even what we try to hide. And loves us anyway.
Jesus’ vulnerability may have been met with ‘many leaving’ but the twelve remain. “Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68). Simon Peter ‘got it’; he understood that the empty claims and promises elsewhere would not satisfy in the long run, but Jesus’ claims and promises would. There was no other option.
There are several lessons to be learnt from these stories about vulnerability.
- Vulnerability is indeed being susceptible to hurt: Adam and Eve were ashamed. God was rejected. Jesus was rejected.
- Yet we have to be vulnerable with others to be accepted. Jesus showed who He was, not just the ‘outter bling’ but the person of God, and while this meant rejection from the crowds, it also resulted in true acceptance. If we want true, deep, authentic friendships we have to be vulnerable. We have to be vulnerable to love. Often vulnerability is met with vulnerability.
- We are called to be vulnerable before God. There’s nothing about us He doesn’t already know but like Simon Peter we need to recognise that we are dependant on Him. Jesus’ vulnerability ultimately led to the cross, and through this moment when Jesus took on our rejection we can know that we are fully accepted by God, no matter what we have done.
“But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
And this reiterates Adam and Eve’s story in Genesis, as “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” (Genesis 3:21) God covered Adam and Eve’s shame. And so, when we are vulnerable before Him, He covers our shame too.
Vulnerability (noun): the state of being susceptible to being wounded or hurt, which can ultimately lead to the state of being fully known, truly accepted and completely loved. (dictionary.com, italics mine)