For Paul astheneia is the gateway into an awareness of the presence and power of God at work in his life.
Astheneia made it possible for Paul to hear God say,
‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’
So, Paul goes on,
I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
There is a profound irony to the fact that we spend much of our lives working against the very thing that has the capacity to open us to an awareness of the reality for which we most long.We work hard to resist astheneia and yet astheneia has the capacity to open us to the deepest longing of our lives.
The deepest longing of our lives is to know the “power” Paul calls “the power of Christ,” that he says dwells “in me.” When astheneia kicks the scaffolding out from under our lives, a great space opens for an awareness of “the power of Christ” that dwells in the secret most hidden depths of our being.
We can rejoice in our astheneia because it leads us to the power that is greater than any human ability. It is when astheneia brings us to the end of our human self-sufficiency that we discover a new deeper dimension of being begins to open.
We discover that our astheneia does not have the power to define us. Astheneia is not who we are. We are something much more vast, much deeper, much more profound than our failings, our shortcomings, or the stupid things we have done in our lives. We are bearers of the eternal light of love and life that never comes to an end and that no force on earth can ever destroy.
Paul sums up his position in the curious, paradoxical statement that
whenever I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)
He uses “I” here in two senses. There is the “I” that is buffeted daily by the unpredictable exigencies of life. This is the “I” that defines itself by astheneia. This is the “I” that experiences shame and insecurity and that spends its life trying to control the circumstances of life in order to avoid ever having to face the reality of astheneia.
But there is another sense in which Paul speaks of “I”. There is an “I” that is “strong.” The word is “dynatos ” from which we derive our word “dynamite”. It means “to be able, powerful, mighty, strong.” There is an “I” within us that is like dynamite, a powerful mighty presence that Paul calls simply “Christ.”
Here is where Paul locates his true identity. He is not astheneia . He is the bearer of the living presence of light and power, of truth, love, goodness, and beauty that, for Paul is summed up in the reality of Christ. So he rejoices in his astheneia because this is his avenue to an awareness of the Christ power at the heart of his being. That sounds like something about which it might be worth boasting.