As an educational institution, the bread and butter of our work is to develop students’ abilities. We focus, as one would expect, on cultivating strengths. You see it in what we use to measure achievement; it guides the way teachers approach assisting students to improve their skills. However, one of the main ways that Christian Education differs from a secular education is the way we understand the concept of weakness. Fundamental to the New Testament is the idea that it is in our weakness that God’s strength is seen more clearly. For example, the Apostle Paul declared that, “I will boast of the things that show my weakness!” 2 Corinthians 11:30. Boast is my Weakness? That is crazy! Why would I want to boast in the recognition that I am mortal, limited, hurting, struggling, tired, dying? Because in it, Paul argues, God’s strength is found.
One of my favourite examples of this comes from Germany just before World War II. By every measure, Dietrich Bonhoeffer had it all. A brilliant concert pianist with doctorate degrees. He came from an elite family with wealth and privilege. In 1933, as Nazi power was increasing across Germany, Bonhoeffer went on a life-changing journey to the village of Bethel, a large community that had been established in the 1860’s to care for people with epilepsy. At the time of Bonhoeffer’s visit, Bethel was a whole town with schools, churches, hospitals, orphanages, farms, factories, shops, and housing for nurses. Bonhoeffer had never seen anything like it. It was in sharp contrast with the Nazi worldview that exalted power and strength.
On August 20th 1933, Bonhoeffer wrote about it in a letter to his grandmother. “The time here in Bethel has made a deep impression on me. Here we have a part of the church that still knows what the church can be about and what it cannot be about. I have just come back from a worship service. It was an extraordinary sight, the whole church was filled with crowds of epileptics and other ill persons, interspersed with deaconesses and deacons who were there to help in case one of them fell; then there were the elderly who come in off the street, the theological students, the children from school, doctors and pastors with their families. But the sick people dominate the picture, and they are keen listeners and participants. Their experience of life is most extraordinary, not having control over their bodies, having to be resigned to the possibility of an attack at any moment. Today in church was the first time this really struck me, as I became aware of these moments. Their situation of being truly defenceless perhaps gives these people a much clearer insight into certain realities of the human existence, perhaps more than is possible for a healthy person, the fact that we are all indeed basically defenceless.”
Before the Nazis’ arrested him, Bonhoeffer was a strong and vocal opponent of those seeking to marginalise the weak. He argued that what we think about weakness makes a lot of difference in our attitude to all of life. Weakness is fundamental to the human condition, and at the heart of the Christian faith. He went as far as to say that, “Christianity stands or falls with its protest against violence and defence for the weak.”
As a school, we will always encourage the development of strengths in our students. However, as a Christian school, we hope that as a community, we continue to learn to journey with one another in our shared weakness. Together, believing that God is strong for us, we will know God’s transforming strength-in-our-weakness.
Mr Matt Stackhouse / Chaplain