The Honored, Undaunted Weaker Vessel

Here’s an excerpt of a new post up at Desiring God. By way of preface, I’ll say that this is not an easy topic for me to write about–because there is so much room for misunderstanding. C.S. Lewis advises that writers should try to close all the possible wrong gates that readers could take and say precisely what they mean to (or something like that). I don’t think I’ve ever written something to that standard. And this is just another attempt. The beauties of the Bible, of God’s works and ways are too wonderful not to write about–even when the attempts fall short.

A package came in the mail with the warning “FRAGILE: Handle with Care.” We fastidiously cut open the cardboard and were disappointed to find a few broken pieces inside. If only the fast-moving conveyor belts and jostling trucks could have read this helpful label. Then they’d have known to give it its proper consideration and value.

A glass chandelier is exquisite in its fragility. We could replace it with a wood frame, sturdy and functional, which would have a certain virtue to it, but it would lose all the things that make it what it is: the light that twinkles off the multi-faceted glass, the gentle high chinkling of pieces as they’re nudged, the suspended refinement that underscores a necessary sort of civilization. It would be a mistake to deem a chandelier worthless because it’s fragile. It misses the point.

Fragility isn’t a defect; it may be the defining worth of a thing.

We have a parallel in 1 Peter 3. How is it that God calls women to “do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” in one verse (1 Peter 3:6), and in the next verse refers to them as a “weaker vessel” (1 Peter 3:7)? We don’t often put fearless and weaker together.

What results from physical fragility? Should fragile things feel insulted because we acknowledge they’re breakable? Or could their very nature as weaker lead them to the source of their fearlessness? A powerlessness resulting in trust in the all-powerful Father?

It helps to first acknowledge that what God says through Peter is true. We areweaker, or we could use the synonym fragile. Not stupider. Not less human. Not incapable of reason or achievement. Not emotionally broken. Not more sinful. And not even without great strength, as the Scriptures testify. But weaker. And yet many of us are, or have been at some point, uncomfortable with this because it’s inimical to the spirit of the age and it feels like an offense to our pride. So much so that we may stubbornly spurn 1 Peter’s verity, even as we take every precaution when walking alone in a dark alley.

Our weakness — the fact that no matter how much time I spent in the gym, I’d likely never be able to overpower an average-sized man or beat him in an arm-wrestling match — is not a sign of something gone wrong. It is to be handled with care, because in it resides exquisite beauties, abilities, and feminine strengths — like the beautiful strength of thick beveled glass.

A pregnant woman is one of the most defenseless humans on the face of the earth. She can barely rise to her feet after sinking into a comfy couch. Yet, who but the weaker vessel, called woman, can grow another human inside her body?

Think of the massive strength and endurance it takes to give birth — yet it is simultaneously a vulnerable type of vigor. A woman in a marathon labor of countless hours is then sitting up in bed, even as her body begins to hemorrhage, trying to feed and care for another person. Why did God do it this way? So that we would know that, like a mother with her nursing babe, he never forgets us, even as the blood drained out of his own Son on our behalf. It’s a fragile, mind-bogglingly valiant design pointing to bigger things, to be honored and protected, not belittled by comparison with a man, but accurately understood by it.

Read the rest.