Weakness Notwithstanding, a Powerful Presence

by the Rev. Kim Kun-shik
Korean Christian Church in Japan (KCCJ)


"But the Lord said to me, `My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses 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" (II Cor. 12:9-10 [RSV]).

For a Beginning

On this beautiful fall day, that for which we have prepared and waited for so long has come to this opening time. It is a great joy to meet all of you today, together in conference.

In today's text, like light and shadow, strong and weak are set in contrast. Dunamis, the Greek word expressing strength, is translated into English as "power." Here power means "that which God is able to do."

Compared with this power of God is the weakness of human beings. There are various kinds of human weakness. First, there is physical weakness and sickness. There is mental timidity and a sense of impotence, and then there are the not-to-be-forgotten serious lateral forms of weakness in the social and political contexts - insult, oppression, poverty.

When speaking of power, knowing well one's own weaknesses is something that is a prerequisite. In other words, we must begin something from directly facing up to and confronting our weaknesses.

Defining Oneself as a Minority Presence

On the surface, no different from the Japanese, we Koreans in Japan are making a living peacefully; but to us as a minority, Japan can in no way be said to be a fair society. It might better be said that if you peel off one layer you find you are walking on the thin ice of discrimination and oppression. Thus, for us to live here, we must of necessity realize that, like it or not, we bear the weaknesses of minority peoples.

Still, it is not easy for one to recognize oneself as a weak person, disabled. In a world of authority and might, putting oneself into a position of weakness leads to numerous hesitations and puzzlements. That is because for a long time we have taken in the values of Japanese society, the power system, and have become accustomed to them. We cannot say outright that we have not been poisoned by such forces. Now, from the viewpoint of the weak, we must first make inquiries about social systems which take the powerful to be good.

Internal Authority and Liberation from Submission

We must also grasp with integrity our own inner being. If we have a core of discrimination and suppression in our inner self while defining ourselves as weak minority persons, then our arguments will be nothing more than futile sounds of noisy bells. Even among us, in us, between us, we must look out for those who are discriminated against because of sex, age, education or ideology. Paul himself was at one time a discriminator, an oppressor. In truthfully acknowledging those facts, when he could accept himself as a weak person, Paul gained the opportunity to realize the work of Christ's power within.

Inevitably, criticism of the powerful, the authorities, becomes a pointed criticism aimed at oneself. However, I do believe that bringing about one's self-liberation is linked to true liberation. The liberation of the oppressed is surely a nucleus to initiate change and even to restore the humanity of those among the mighty whose human nature has been distorted as well.

Experiences of the KCCJ

Our Korean Christian Church in Japan (KCCJ) has throughout its history shared harsh experiences as a minority within a minority. During the Second World War, almost all Japanese nationals approved of the invasion of Asia under the imperial state system. At that time, even Christian churches submitted to emperor worship and took part in Shinto shrine and imperial household ceremonies. The few members who had doubts about the series of imperialist policies and opposed them suffered harsh suppression and were sucked into life-threatening situations. Still, in such a dark age, as the light of the world, the ever-burning flame of their own lives today has flared as a new fire in the continuation of our human rights movements and struggles against fingerprinting aliens. Furthermore, that light burns on, pointing to the making of a civic society where minorities and majority live together, and, becoming a motive power, it promotes more advanced visions.

The Meaning of Minorityhood

If the life of existing as a minority means a life full of indignities and no understanding and, from that, making criticisms (prophecies) to the powers and principalities, then there must be a readiness to suffer persecution and face rejection.

However, if we really grasp the meaning of what we ourselves are doing, of the life we are living, of the hardships we are suffering, and then, from there on discern our goals, each one of us can live through to one's own true life, overcoming the suffering. God's presence is not necessarily being together in grace. Rather, the Bible speaks of thinking of one's self as far removed from grace, in the midst of sighs and cries and agony, marked in intense ways. And it also speaks of the one who walked together with the minority ones, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Has the time come now for us to seriously consider the meaning of what God has set for us to share in the extremities of agony?

We are together in the world facing the many absurdities (injustices) of our societies. Such are a clear challenge to living as real human beings. We ourselves are to confront such injustices and fight with resolution. To that end, we are trying to hear the cries of each other's suffering, to be compassionate, and more, to share the meaning of it all. Our strong hope to live the life of full humanity will become clear within the bonds and solidarity which we make here. As minority persons in the world, we have gathered here, not as persons showing off our strength, but as ones who are weak. Nevertheless, weakness notwithstanding, I believe we may become a presence full of God's power, a presence working with God's power in all humility. Still, it is that which God enables and enacts.

(This article, which was translated by J. H. McIntosh, was presented as the opening message at the second International Consultation on Minority Issues and Mission Strategies, October 1994, Kyoto, Japan. The author is the moderator of KCCJ.)