Strength Is Found In Weakness; Control Is Found In Dependency; Power Is Found In Surrender.
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Religion

Strength Is Found In Weakness; Control Is Found In Dependency; Power Is Found In Surrender.

"Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."

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Strength Is Found In Weakness; Control Is Found In Dependency; Power Is Found In Surrender.
Ryan Fan

The title is a quote from Christian counselor and minister, Dan B. Allender, and is an illumination of the fact that the joys and lights of our lives often come in paths are guided by the darkness.

We are strong through our weaknesses. We gain control through being dependent. We find power through surrendering. The ideas are firm and wise, but the gist of the logic is that we have to be weak to be strong. We have to be dependent to be in control. We have to surrender to find power. And we can never have all those things alone. People need spiritualism and companionship to find that meaning in the darkest moments of their lives.

I needed God.

Society and culture often do not tell us that we find strength through being weak and failing, that we seemingly find control through being dependent, that we attain power through surrender. Too often we see someone's accomplishments as the last and final result and straightforward path rather than a process. To us, in our culture, to see things in the way that Allender prescribes is not right-side-up, but upside-down, in the sense that our priorities should be dependence, weakness, and surrender, the opposite of the culture's values of power, control, and strength.

The upside-down kingdom is one espoused by Jesus Christ through the gospel, according to Tim Keller, that Christianity reversed the values and priorities of our lives. We stay away from what we don't see as our priorities like we're often taught to stay away from being weak and dependent. In the right-side-up kingdom, "these values are on top: power, comfort, success, and recognition...acclaim, popularity, celebrity." The right-side-up kingdom puts down values like weakness, sacrifice, grief, and exclusion as things to avoid, and the reason for this is that the right-side-up kingdom focuses on the now. "They give you results...this set of values seems absolutely, biologically natural." And so, Christianity, as a belief system, seems to be so biologically unnatural.

"The spirit of self-sacrifice which permeates Christianity, and is so highly prized in the Christian religious life, is masochism moderately indulged... All this breathes masochism," wrote Alister Hardy, a prominent British psychologist.

And since the right-side-up kingdom is so natural biologically, and seems to make the most sense, "who then would value weakness or sacrifice? Who would tolerate grief, exclusion, or rejection? What's the product?" Keller asks. But there are severe limitations in only focusing on the now and the present. "You may laugh now, but later you'll weep. You may be filled now, but later you'll be empty...If you say the now is all that matters, who knows about eternity or other things?" Focusing on the now gets us results, for sure, but eventually, the beauty of living in the present crumbles.

"If you build your life on people who love you, they're going to die. If you build your life on achievement and power, your records will be eclipsed." Well, isn't that a painfully pessimistic way of looking at things, I wonder? Doesn't it seem like suicide to value weakness, sacrifice, and tears? "What Jesus holds as true goes against everything we believe," we say. "So why should we believe Him?"

Keller then transitions to say that the works of Jesus, the miracles of raising the dead, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and dying and resurrecting on the cross, meant the end of the old kingdom. "If you're living for yourself, if you are spending all your money on yourself if you are not living as Jesus Christ lived...your kingdom is about to crumble." As such, we have to rejoice in the upside-down kingdom because Jesus gave up everything.

Of course, a lot of us don't believe Jesus ever lived. I know I didn't at times. But in asking that question and asking to see and have evidence, we're missing the point. Faith, by definition, is moving past the constraints of evidence and reason, and even if Jesus didn't live, moving into the upside-down kingdom is more of what the world needs. "The mark of what makes you a Christian is the reversal of values," Keller writes. "The things that the world considers pitiable we prize." It is hypocrisy and Pharisee-like to say we believe in Jesus and are Christians when what we really value is power and accomplishment.

And in valuing weakness, grief, sacrifice, dependence, and surrender, we are not masochists because we aren't seeking it. Prizing is not seeking. "Prizing means that when it comes, we see its value and we understand what it's doing in our lives." Keller then puts it beautifully in the next couple of sentences:

"We are able to prize what seems pitiable because when it happens we know its value, and we prize the people who are going through it. We're attracted to them. We get into their lives to try to ameliorate their lives."

To be a Christian means not to think and prioritize the values the world prioritizes. We can't be controlled by power, comfort, and recognition. A Christian living in the upside-down kingdom doesn't need control and doesn't need power. "They don't drive you; they don't control you. You can take them or leave them. That is the first mark of somebody who is living in the upside-down kingdom; it's the pattern of your life."

The distinction between a non-Christian and a Christian comes in an example of someone about to lose their jobs. A non-Christian living in the old kingdom sees lying as the only answer for saving his job and keeping his position. "Why? He is a slave. He can't do without that house in Greenwich or power, comfort, and success." A Christian's mindset says "I have to do whatever is necessary because these things don't bother me anymore." Isn't that latter mindset so much more freeing? Isn't it so much more liberating? Both the non-Christian and the Christian want to keep their jobs, and that's only natural. But the mindsets are the difference.

Luke 6, which is one account of Jesus's Sermon on the Mount, gives us the Beatitudes, which are four blessings preached to his disciples. The Beatitudes tells us that the blessed are those who weep, the ones who are hungry, who are poor, who are persecuted. So Jesus's upside-down kingdom inherently runs on paradoxes. We weep and are hungry because there's something wrong. But "blessed" means we're deeply satisfied. "Jesus says that a Christian is somebody who can weep and still be blessed...in the new kingdom, they do go together because there's blessedness that doesn't have to do with circumstances."

"Rejoice and leap for joy in that day, for great is your reward in heaven," Jesus says in Luke 6:23.

Karl Marx once cited verses like these as to why religion is the "opium of the people," and Keller goes on to disagree with Marx in that regard, saying that the exact language says that great is your reward in the heaven, not great will be your reward in heaven. A Christian, according to Keller, is a person who says "I've lost recognition. I've lost everything. But I'm famous with God...I've been excluded, but I'm welcomed by God." As a Christian, we're not living by the values of the world. We're living a life that's free, and that's the reversal in our lives.

"So what if I lose my reputation or my life? If I see injustice in my neighborhood, I stand up against it. So what if I'm ostracized?... This is not the opium of the people, but the smelling salts! This will wake you up!"

I don't disagree with Tim Keller often, but I think he gets Marx wrong here, that the two of them would agree more than he thought when he wrote this article. Marx was by no means anti-religious, as he once wrote that people need to develop "greater spiritual freedom [to] break their bondage to their bodily needs." And the "religion is the opium of the masses" quote is one that is taken out of context all too much, as the full quote from Marx translates, from German, as "religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."

The sigh of the oppressed creature. The heart of a heartless world. The soul of soulless conditions. That is the freedom from the circumstance that is part of the upside-down kingdom that Keller touts and espouses. And opium in this context is meant not to be a painkiller, but a means of hope. Marx meant more that religion is a means of people trying to protest the pain caused by the bourgeoisie and that opium is more an expression of protest than the alleviation of suffering.

But we get this power of freedom through Jesus Christ, through Him. Jesus came to the Earth a poor man who was persecuted to the cross, isolated and rejected by his closest friends, and even his father. Yet he gave himself up at the end of the day. And Jesus doesn't give himself up so that our fortunes could be reversed directly. Jesus didn't become weak to make us strong. Jesus didn't become poor so we could be rich. "You have to see that everything He did was to reverse fortunes with you."

Jesus suffered and died for us to change us, not to change our circumstances.

"The fact is, you can live in a reversal of values because you live by His reversal. He took your place. He put you where He deserves to be—before the throne of God, accepted, beloved. He put Himself where you deserve to be—cast out. Because of that, you get the power."

According to Keller, there are two ways of looking at God. One way is this: "I have nothing of value. God owes me nothing...But I rely completely on what Jesus Christ has done for me and ask that He accept me." The other way of looking at God is this: "God owes me something. He owes me comfort. He shouldn't let bad things happen to me." The first way is righteous, and the second isn't. "Because He reversed His fortunes with you, you can reverse your fortunes with everybody else. In other words, a Christian who knows where he's standing in heaven is lives recklessly." That means we are reckless with our money, our time, to the point of reckless generosity. That means people will exploit us and take advantage of us.

But so what? If we have Christ, if we rely on Christ, we have it all and have received it all. A Christian says, through faith, according to Keller, "it's nice to have money, privacy, and comfort...[but] I'm not controlled by these things, so I'm able to move out and live in a way that the world will consider reckless because I'm poor in spirit, not middle class in spirit." Think about the times, as Christians, that we have come to know God and be closer to God the most. Newsflash: it's not when life is going well. It's usually when we are poor in spirit.

So the gospel is for those of us who are poor in spirit, the afflicted and the suffering. "The poor know that salvation has to be by grace. You never find the poor having a very nice ethical religion...because they don't have the illusion of being in control of their lives." Those who are poor in spirit know that everything is by grace, and are hence more open to the gospel, and will turn their hearts to others who are poor. All success that we inherit, then, is "unmerited grace."

Let us look to the life of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king in the book of Daniel who was afflicted with severe mental illness and turned into an animal to grow back and realize he was living according to the old kingdom rather than the new one. Let us live prioritizing weakness, dependency, and surrender, and that is how we will receive God's grace.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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