Feeling weak? Why vulnerability is the real humanity...

London Mayor Boris JohnsonReuters

Boris Johnson's speech at the Conservative Party conference offered a fascinating insight into the future of the Conservative party. Johnson's homily covered capitalism, social justice and Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn in what is widely regarded as the launch of his campaign to be the next British Prime Minister.

Of particular interest to Christians was the Mayor of London's tribute to the merits of capitalism. Using the analogy of a rugby scrum, Johnson spoke of how, if everyone binds tightly together, the strong can carry the weak.

But Johnson has missed something.

Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche communities for people with learning difficulties, has spoken extensively on why actually the strong need the weak. In doing so he picks on a key piece of Christian theology which is uncomfortable for many 21st Century Christians and something you would not expect to hear at the Conservative Party conference.

At the heart of what it means to be human is weakness. We are more fully human, Vanier argues, when we allow all our competence to drop. In other words, in our drive for efficiency, strength and success we miss what it is to be a human. The core of humanity, the Bible teaches, is vulnerability.

The Christian doctrine of creation is that we are created out of nothing so we are entirely vulnerable and dependent upon God for our very existence let alone any gifts that we have or anything we may achieve in our life. God could have created us to be strong and powerful like angels. But he didn't. He created us out of dust to be weak and to be entirely dependent on him.

Ultimately this is seen in the life of Christ. God, the supreme creator and ruler chose the fullest revelation of himself to humanity to be weak - a baby born to a teenager in an obscure corner of the Roman Empire. God became a foetus and then an infant who could do nothing for himself but had to depend entirely on others for milk and clothing. Bearing in mind God could have chosen to reveal himself through an awesome display of his power, I cannot think of anything more vulnerable. So weakness, far from being some sub-human condition, is something we should all acknowledge in ourselves.

Understandably this makes uncomfortable reading for us today in a society where choice, autonomy and strength are so valued. We update our LinkedIn profile and upload pictures to Facebook to show how much we have achieved and how successful we are.

The danger in all of this is we forget how frail and weak we really are. This is why those who cannot hide their vulnerability behind an impressive CV or a suave suit have a lot to teach those of us who can. They, according to Vanier, are our example of what it is to be human.

We have been so conditioned to fight for our own corner, to stand up for ourselves and to prioritise our own autonomy that it is uncomfortable to be reminded of our utter weakness. But that is the Christian doctrine of creation – it is uncomfortable stuff.

Ironically Christians are actually some of the worst people at being weak. We love to look after others, to care for the sick and often we are very good at it. We are quite content with helping charities and setting up initiatives to help the poor. But frequently we are uncomfortable when it is our turn to be looked after. But weakness was how God made us to be. We are designed for vulnerability. We are designed to be dependent.

So I am all in favour of the strong helping and carrying the weak. That is excellent and I applaud Boris for encouraging it. But let's not think of this as an act of charity or an imposition on your busy schedules. Let's not think the strong are doing the weak a favour. Actually the strong have an awful lot to learn from the weak. They are the most human.