Today’s General Conference talks included some mentioning of weaknesses being strengths that really touched a chord in me. I’ve been intending to blog on this subject since coming across it while reading Tad Callister’s “The Infinite Atonement” but I just hadn’t gotten around to finishing the post. Since conference discussed the subject so beautifully I figured I would finish it.
I think the doctrine of weaknesses turning into strengths as commonly discussed among the LDS people if often very underdeveloped. I’m passionate on this subject because it came up when I tried to go on a mission. There was a suggestion that if I simply prayed with enough faith my Aspeger’s syndrome would disappear and I would meet the new qualifications for missionary service because the scriptures promise that weak things shall become strong in Ether 12:27.
The context for this passage I find all important. Moroni is praying for greater eloquence in writing. Most of us stop reading and start the Sunday School lesson right where the Lord tells Moroni that his weakness will be turned to a strength. But we miss the beauty of when the Lord tells Moroni that his lack of eloquence actually has a reason in the divine plan, that with this lack of eloquence God intends to test to latter day readers on their charity and humility. Instead of overwhelming the readers with powerful rhetoric, Moroni’s words are supposed to be a test to see if latter day readers will humble themselves enough to have charity towards Moroni and see past his writing to the inspiration of the Lord behind it. (See Ether 12:26 and 35). But the scriptures never actually say Moroni’s writing was improved.
There are nuanced reasons why our weaknesses are often not changed to strengths when or how we’d like them to no matter how much faith we have. Consider the story of the man born blind, who the apostles asked if was born blind because of his own sins or the sins of his parents. The sublime answer was “neither, but that the Glory of God may be made manifest.” It wasn’t a lack of humility or of faith or of failing to ask for the blessing that had failed to transform the weakness into a strength. It was for the Glory of God. Most of us stop reading right there. We are so caught up in the beauty of the act of healing manifesting the Glory of God that we don’t consider that Christ didn’t say the healing had been done for the Glory of God (though it showed it), it was the birth in blindness. It would be very inconsistent with the love of God if an entire life was darkened in blindness just so that Christ could have a moment of glory healing him. I think one way or another Christ really meant that something about the man’s life being blind helped bring about the purposes of God in his life and the life of others around him, and that the healing just was a very powerful way of showing that no sin was involved. I think anyone with a family member afflicted with a weakness that they’ve learned to love as part of the person will be able to testify that in the weakness the Glory of God is manifest because dealing with those weaknesses transforms us. Our capacity to love is enhanced.
Another reason weakness might not be removed is that having them causes us to build compensating strengths that, in the eternal perspective, are more urgently needed. The prime example that we ignore all too frequently is that weaknesses bring humility, which is an essential characteristic for our perfection. The scriptures speaking on the subject in Ether 12:25-37 and 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 emphasize this as the central function of weakness. By emphasizing faith and humility as the only steps necessary to change a weakness to a strength, as we often do when we read the classic verse in Ether out of context, we misunderstand humility. It is more than having the faith to be healed. Its following up any prayer on the subject of our weakness with “Thy will be done” and being willing to accept the answer if the Spirit tells us that our weakness exists so that the purposes of God might be made manifest.
I suggest a new attitude towards weakness. First, we should live worthy to be blessed and humbly pray for the alleviation. Second, we should believe that if faithful we will be blessed with “all that the Father hath” and know that that includes perfection in all things, coming line upon line, precept upon precept. Third, we should do as Paul directs and take joy in our weaknesses. As stated in 2nd Corinthians:
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
With this new understanding we can find the peace promised by the scriptures in spite of afflictions and learn to accept the blessing of God necessary to His purposes in whatever form they come in, whether to us they seem weaknesses or strengths. And, when God decides to bless us to be able to do His will by removing the infirmity whether in this life or the next, we will be ready and humble enough to accept it.
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