Recently I visited the Timken Art Museum in San Diego with my kids, a free art museum in the heart of Balboa Park full of priceless paintings. One of the works on display was Giovanni Francesco Barbieri’s The Return of the Prodigal Son. It depicts the moment the prodigal son returns to his father. Ashamed to look into his father’s eyes, the son is turned away in tears. The father is embracing him, wrapping him in his own cloak with a look of concern on his face. It’s an artistic interpretation of Jesus’s Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. Despite its beauty, my biggest takeaway that afternoon had to do with the artist himself.
God’s Power Through Weakness
Born into poverty and mostly self-taught, Barbieri’s artwork is now world famous. Even more remarkably, Barbieri’s eyes didn’t work well. This gained him the nickname “Guercino,” which means “squinter.” A traumatic experience in his childhood left him permanently cross-eyed, and yet despite this handicap he was able to create visual masterpieces. The whole thing got me thinking. Often in Scripture God uses our impairments to create beautiful things. Who did the LORD choose to boldly confront Pharoah and rescue the children of Israel from Egypt? A speech-impaired Moses:
But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” (Exod. 4:10–12)
Your greatest weakness may be the kingdom’s greatest asset since it can become an occasion for God to flex his might. When Paul pleaded with the Lord to remove his thorn in the flesh, God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). What if instead of looking at our impairments as hindrances to the gospel’s advancement, we saw them as the very stages upon which God intended to show forth his power? What if instead of praying that God would remove our weakness, we prayed that God would show himself strong through it? I admit this may not be the prayer we want to offer up. Furthermore, there’s nothing wrong with asking God to remove whatever thorn is aggravating us. But we should be ready just in case he responds to like he did to Paul.
On the flip side, the fact that God’s strength is perfected in weakness challenges the faulty belief that God needs our talents. We can fall into the trap of thinking that success depends upon us and relying on our giftedness to accomplish “victory.” While we might delight in our own brawn, God is not so much impressed. “His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love” (Ps. 147:11). Our natural and spiritual gifts come from God to begin with, and what he gives creates no lack in himself. He doesn’t need our strength, but he delights to fill up our weakness.
In what areas of your life do you have to squint to get by? Don’t despise them! It may very well be that your squinting is for the glory of God—you just need to see it!