J. I. Packer on the Cure for Charlie Brown Syndrome

Beloved Bible scholar J. I. Packer knows weakness firsthand—an accident at age seven left him with lasting injuries. In his book Weakness Is the Way: Life with Christ Our Strength (excerpt below), he turns to 2 Corinthians to look at weakness in a biblical way—and helps us reckon with our own weakness.

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The sense of being weak, which the weak yet intelligent person can hardly avoid, generates feelings of inferiority—the Charlie Brown syndrome—and of uselessness and worthlessness, along with consequent gloom and depression—[are] not at all happy feelings to live with. 

The sense of weakness casts a cloud over one’s existence. 

In this fallen world, where original sin in the form of pride, ambitious independence, and deep-level egocentricity has infected everyone, we all crave to be admired for strength in something, and the expectation that it is not going to happen makes one feel like a punctured balloon and plants bitterness in one’s heart. 

The gospel message, however . . . first calls on us all to be realistic in facing and admitting our sinfulness, our weaknesses, our actual transgressions, and our consequent guilt before God; and then it addresses us, in God’s name, substantially as follows:

Look to Christ as your loving Sin-Bearer and living Lord. Embrace him as your Savior and Master. And then in his presence resolve to leave behind the old life of conscious self-service, marred as it was by bitterness, self-pity, envy of others, and feelings of failure, in order that you may become his faithful—that is, faith-full—disciple, living henceforth by his rules under his care.

Love Christ, in unending gratitude for his unending love to you. Labor to please him in everything you do. Let his love constrain, compel, command, comfort, and control you constantly, and, like Paul, stop regarding human approval as in any way important. . . . Live and love the way Paul did before you, and aspiring eagerness will replace gloom and apathy in your heart.

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Lean on Christ and rely on him to supply through the Holy Spirit all the strength you need for his service, no matter how weak unhappy circumstances and unfriendly people may be making you feel at present. . . .

 As part of his response to being berated as “weak” by the Corinthians and their “super-apostles,” Paul reveals that Christ has set him to live with an unhealed “thorn” (pain, disability) in his body and has told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:7–9). 

It is time now to take to heart his triumphant concluding comment on this aspect of his life situation: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (vv. 9–10). 

So lean on Christ, the lover of your soul, as Paul did, and in all your ongoing weakness, real as it is, you too will be empowered to cope and will be established in comfort and joy.

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This post is adapted from Weakness Is the Way: Life with Christ Our Strength by J. I. Packer.

The title of this post is the addition of the editor. The author’s views do not necessarily represent those of Faithlife.

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