Promoting Power

power-in-hand-300x200Power is definitely out of favor. It may have been yesterday’s fad, but today it is synonymous with egomaniacal villains, brutal military dictators, and decomposing nuclear reactors. Generations of abusive leaders and corrupt systems have trained us to fear power, automatically accepting the belief that power corrupts.

Our solution? Democratic processes. Separation of powers. Limited terms. Public accountability.

Who elected God eternal autocrat of the cosmos?

All of this falls apart when we try to apply it to God. Who elected Him eternal autocrat of the cosmos? What happens when public opinion polls plummet in response to the way He is running things? The idea of an indeposable, unlimited, self-appointed ruler should terrify us if absolute power corrupts absolutely.

But what if the corrupting component of power could be overcome? What if someone were able to use such power purely for good?

In spiritualized, Sunday-school mode we nod our heads and sing “My God is so BIG…”, but in cynical, real-world mode we shake our heads and mutter, “When pigs fly!” No wonder we have a hard time taking the parts of Scripture seriously that talk about God as King, not just over demons, cancer, and eternal souls, but over every piece of earth, every law of nature, every whim of man.

The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.
He will rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. …his enemies will lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and of distant shores will bring tribute to him… All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him.
Psalm 2:4; 72:8-11

The Psalms describe God as the mighty King over all the earth, laughing at any opponent who would seek to be His rival. He instates and deposes rulers, making His enemies eat dust and His captives pay tribute. He comes across as a hard-core ace who knows what He wants and never fails to get it.

For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.
…the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people.
Psalm 72:12-14; 68:35

But what does He do with all that power? The same Psalms describe Him as the hero of the poor, the champion of the broken. He uses His power to help the helpless, protect the defenseless, and pick up the devastated. Better yet, He holds His power lightly, passing it on to His people with astonishing ease and in lavish portions.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go…
…”But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.
Matthew 28:18; Acts 1:8; 2:33

Nowhere is this better illustrated than in Jesus’ redistribution of power just after His resurrection. Having taken on death and won, He had just achieved authority over all of heaven and earth. But rather than flexing His muscles and showing off the full extent of His awesomeness, He celebrated by dumping buckets of Spirit-power over His disciples’ heads. He took the power and authority that had been given to Him and used it to empower them. Their commission? The same work He had been doing: help the needy, heal the broken, and tell everyone the good news that He had set them free.

..his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given…
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” …It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…
Ephesians 1:19-21; 4:7-12

God is no Juan Peron or Mao Tse-tung, using His power to help the poor while clinging to it at all costs. He delights in sharing His power with His people. Yes, He is in the process of taking all His enemies down, but that is only a part of His greater effort to build us up. As He hands His power over to us one gift at a time, we are enabled to participate in developing and strengthening our corporate selves: the Body of Christ.

This is no one-man show. It’s true that history is all about God. But He turns it around and makes it all about Us.

God’s is a power that empowers.
With His power, ours can be the same.

As someone who has personally suffered and closely walked with others who suffer from abusive uses of power, I am initially tempted to recoil from the idea of God’s absolute power. But when I look at the track record of what He does with it, I am inspired to give myself to promoting His power.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ…
Ephesians 3:16-18

And I have to believe that as humans are increasingly filled with His Spirit’s kind of power, we too will be able to hold power in this way. Of course we will do so imperfectly, with selfishness and corruption forever tugging at our sleeves. God has built accountability and the division of gifting into our system, providing necessary checks on our use of power. But I am no longer afraid of power. It is, like any other gift from God, able to be used for great harm or for great good.

God’s is a power that empowers. With His power, ours can be the same.

6 thoughts on “Promoting Power”

  1. Another great post, love your gems of wisdom, Tiffany. This is a question I’ve been pondering a lot lately as well, especially with regards to how Christ’s power interacts with political power, or whether ‘religion’ has a place in ‘politics’, and how Christians are to ‘vote’ for and according to the corruptible, human authorities that rule our nations. Is our role purely intercessory – to pray for God to grant our leaders greater discernment, or a vague prayer for ‘Your Kingdom come’ over civilisations and systems? Or is it to champion one leader purely because he has, for example, an anti-abortion policy? Or is it, as you say, demonstrating The Spirit’s power on earth on a ‘ground level’ by loving the broken, helping the needy, feeding the hungry, and have no truck with politics at all? Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    1. What a great question, Charmaine! I wish I could unroll a perfectly prepared response. The truth is, this is a question that continues to swirl around in my mind as well. I am familiar with arguments that would support different ones of these approaches.

      I suspect that the first (purely intercession) may come out of an assumption that to get involved in politics would result in getting our hands stained by the corruption of human systems, along with perhaps a bit of dualism that feels the need to choose between spiritual and physical solutions.

      The second approach (political lobbying) is a lot more popular among those who see the Kingdom of God as not only a heavenly reality but also an earthly one (a perspective which I strongly agree with). The pitfall that can come with that approach is getting so caught up with involvement in human systems that we begin to put our faith in certain parties or politicians and relegate Christ’s reign to the spirit realm only (the other side of dualism).

      I see the third approach (getting our hands dirty) as a must for all believers, despite whatever else we may or may not be involved in.
      “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
      Matthew 25:34-36

      Frankly, I think that my answer would be yes to all of the above. Yes, we are called to pray for our leaders (I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone– for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 1 Tim. 2:1-2) Yes, our prayers should also be our commission to proactively seek their fulfillment, meaning we should work whatever political processes are within our means to bring justice and peace within government and social systems. And yes, we should accept responsibility (as individual Christians and as the church) for the ground level needs of the people around us. Our confidence in all of this is that our King reigns, both in and apart from human systems. All power and authority are His, and we are His ambassadors to the world.

      Tom Wright has a lot to say about just how political the Kingdom of God is–you may enjoy reading some of his work on Kingdom and empire (I’ll leave some snippets below).

      What is the immediate significance of this Jesus-and-Caesar contrast? It was of course a challenge to an alternative loyalty. Jesus is the reality, Caesar the parody. It was the legitimation of the Christian church as the true empire of the true Lord.

      Click to access Wright_Paul_Caesar_Empire.pdf

      As everyone in the Roman world knew well, the cross already had a clear symbolic meaning; it meant that Caesar ruled the world, with cruel death as his ultimate, and regular, weapon.[22] For Paul, throughout his writings, the cross is far more than simply the means whereby individual sins are forgiven, though of course it is that as well. It is the means whereby the powers are defeated and overthrown (1 Cor. 2:6-8; Col. 2:13-15). The resurrection demonstrates that the true God has a power utterly superior to that of Caesar. The cross is thus to be seen, with deep and rich paradox, as the secret power of this true God, the power of self-giving love which (as Jesus said it would) subverts the power of the tyrant (Mk. 10:35-45).

  2. Spot on. God’s power is non-coercive; see Mt 20:20–28 and Jn 13:1–20. A great book on the difference between coercive and non-coercive power is Jacques Ellul’s The Subversion of Christianity. Briefly, is the power of man used to maintain society, or do we let the Holy Spirit do that? According to theologian Emil Brunner in The Misunderstanding of the Church, we prefer to do that ourselves:

    In any event we ought to face the New Testament witness with sufficient candour to admit that in this “pneuma”, which the Ecclesia was conscious of possessing, there lie forces of an extra-rational kind which are mostly lacking among us Christians of to-day.[1] (48)

    For theo-logy has to do with the Logos and therefore is only qualified to deal with matters which are in some way logical, not with the dynamic in its a-logical characteristics. Therefore the Holy Ghost has always been more or less the stepchild of theology and the dynamism of the Spirit a bugbear for theologians; on the other hand, theology through its unconscious intellectualism has often proved a significant restrictive influence, stifling the operations of the Holy Ghost, or at least their full creative manifestation. But we shall never rightly understand the essential being of the New Testament Ecclesia if we do not take fully into account these paralogical revelations of the Spirit. (48–49)

    The Spirit operates with overwhelming, revolutionary, transforming results. It manifests itself in such a way as to leave one wondering why and how, and in such a way as to demolish the walls of partition separating individuals from each other. (49)

    But this is scary. Ellul from Subversion:

        How truly intolerable, then, is a message, and even more so a life, that centers on weakness. Not sacrifice on behalf of a cause that one wants to bring to success, but in all truth love for nothing, faith for nothing, giving for nothing, service for nothing. Putting others above oneself. In all things seeking the interests of others. When dragged before the courts, not attempting any defense but leaving it to the Holy Spirit. The renunciation of power is infinitely broader and harder than nonviolence (which it includes). For nonviolence allows of a social theory, and in general it has an objective. The same is not true of non power. Thus the revelation of X cannot but repel fundamentally people of all ages and all cultures. (166)

    In other words: if you give others power, rather than maintain enough for yourself, they might screw you over. Just like Jesus was screwed over.

    1. Interesting dialogue with very different authors, Luke. I would say that the second (Ellul) highlights the significance of the first (Brunner). Meaning, if we don’t really believe in the transformative power of the Holy Spirit at work in our right-here world (including within the hearts and minds of those who don’t acknowledge Him), then, in your words, we are screwed. Paul recognized this over a different issue:
      If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. 1 Cor. 15:19

      We can give others power because we trust that God still maintains His. Jesus submitted to others because He trusted that the Father had His back. And He knew that on the other side, He would be given even greater power.
      “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Matt. 26:64
      In a loud voice they sang: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Rev. 5:12

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