BLOG––Finding Faith in Narrative


Posted by April Bumgardner on

Last month Jean Vanier passed away at the age of 90. Vanier is the founder of L’Arche communities throughout the world in which individuals with and without physical, intellectual or emotional disabilities live alongside one another. His gentleness and counter-cultural love for others attracted people of such caliber as Stanley Hauerwas and Henri Nouwen, who also lived until his death in 1996 in an L’Arche community in Richmond Hill, Ontario.

In his book, We Need Each Other: Responding to God’s Call to Live Together, published shortly before his death, Vanier discusses the need for vulnerability even within generosity.

“I can be generous: I can volunteer to help someone living in an institution, or I can go into a slum area and listen to people, or give them money. However, when I am generous, I hold the power. In my generosity, I give good things when I want. The initiative is mine. When I extend my generosity to you, I become superior. The equation changes, however, when I become your friend. The generosity becomes a meeting point for the two of us, and the journey of friendship begins. When I become your friend, I become vulnerable to you.”

This vulnerability is what most of us tend to run from, or at the very least, what we build up barriers against. We protect ourselves from the very thing we crave most as humans: relationships. Yet if we learn anything about the very nature of God’s essence, it is this: God is himself social, defined by relationships.

“Let us make mankind in our image and our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26) The creation of humanity informs us that God is a social being, and although the term trinity is not specifically mentioned here, we infer all aspects of God being involved in creation. He speaks. He hovers. He creates. The Word. The Spirit. The Creator.

As the Word prepared to leave this world, he spoke to the apostles about love. It was the obligation he was to leave them with: love one another. It was a command based fundamentally in relationship.

“I no longer call you servants,” he explains, “because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends…You did not choose me, but I chose you…so that you might go and bear fruit–fruit that will last…” (John 15:15-16)

This lasting fruit is possible only through the vulnerability and generosity of God. Jesus, taking on flesh, becomes vulnerable as man and continues in the generosity of his love as God. However, vulnerability is likewise a divine attribute. If we think of God exclusively as omnipotent, it is difficult to see it. As Jesus became human to demonstrate who God is, he showed us his capacity for pain and hurt and vulnerability. Jesus wept when his friend died (John 11), he hungered (Matthew 4), he empathized (Luke 9), and he suffered from fear of pain and loss (Mark 14). 

Jesus’ ability to be grieved or hurt is not peculiar to his human state. God has always been vulnerable. He did not coerce the Son to suffer. He does not force his will upon us to obey him. Rather, he longs to be in relationship with us, yet does not impose himself upon us. We have the capacity to cause suffering in the Creator. Relationships require vulnerability but offer infinite space for love, acceptance and joy.


“You are more beautiful than you dare believe.”
~Jean Vanier~


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