This morning I’m thinking about power. Power is one of those neutral things that can be used for good or for bad. In this modern world we are surrounded by power. I’m riding a large powered rectangular box consisting of metal and rubber and plastic and upholstery and I’m very grateful this box takes me to work every day. I’m typing on a much smaller rectangle that has its own small power source. We are awash in benign, controlled power sources that do all sorts of good things for us: transportation, heating, cooling, comunication, healing, entertainment, education, food preparation and thousands of other uses.
We also, many of us, possess other kinds of power. I have a kind of power over the people who work for me. I have a different kind of power over the ministries entrusted to me. Yet another kind of power over my dogs. While I often don’t think of it this way, my wife and I both have profound power and influence over each other. There’s another kind of power I have over my children (and, again, they also wield a kind of power over me).
In the context of love-relationships it seems “off” to speak of “power over” others, doesn’t it? But think of it this way: over the weekend we bought a bougainvillia and planted it in a planter out front. I have profound power over that little plant. If I don’t water it and care for it this little plant will not make it. If I exercise good, life-giving power over this plant it will grow tall, perhaps taller than I am.
This is power for good.
The problem is that in many relationships and structures our power is not for good. There’s a tendency in the human heart for rationalization, isn’t there? A slaveholder can convince himself that his slaves would not survive under freedom. An abusive husband can tell his battered wife that he loses his temper “because he cares so much” and, tragically, she can even convince herself to believe him. Abusive church leaders can have the conviction that they are on a mission from God and this justifies bulldozing their flock in service of that mission. National leaders can fall under the intoxicating pull of power, convinced, as P.J. O’Rourke once observed, that the world will be a better place if they run it.
We live in a vast, complicated matrix of power relationships. We are often in submission to these and sometimes, more often than we might think, we are the ones wielding the power. For good or for bad.
Jesus stepped into a world full of power dynamics. I was just reading Matthew 2 this morning; before Jesus was even two years old a mad king decided he would exercise his power to deliberately thwart the promised Messiah of the people he held power over, and so he killed all the boys two years and younger in the region where Jesus was born. This is the world Jesus grew up in. It’s the world he spoke the Sermon on the Mount into. It’s a world in which he flipped, voluntarily, the power dynamic such that he submitted to hands that he himself had created, allowing them to torture and pierce and even kill him.
Who does that?
God does that. The path to greatness, to true power, to all authority wielded well and good lies this way.
As his followers we must be the first to see this and act upon it. To give up our power and take up our servanthood.
Perhaps more on this later. I’m still figuring this out.