Tuesday, January 07, 2014

the problem with power

About four-thousand years ago God spoke to a nobody; only family members and relatives would have known him. His nomadic dad was traveling to Canaan but stopped at a town in Turkey and settled. It was there God spoke to Abraham and told him: “Leave what’s familiar and I’ll make a nation out of you. And here’s the Big Deal, Abraham: you will bless the entire world.” We later discover that he would do that through Abraham’s descendent.

Which recently got me thinking: what does it mean to bless an entire planet? How would I do that? Would that mean I’d have the power to make people happy? To end all wars? To eliminate disease and pain? To introduce or enforce a global shalom?

Don’t we believe we would have to have a reasonable amount of power to bless the whole earth? But even at our altruistic best, how would we keep the peace between individuals/tribes/religions/nations who want some sort of power over another? If you’re a parent of more than one child, you know this isn’t simple. Every nation and state attempts to keep peace by wielding power, as in: Who has the bigger stick? In societies, we grant power and authority to certain people (police, lawyers, military, etc.) so that hopefully bad people bent on evil are quarantined.

And, of course, not all power-holders are the good guys. If you think Wall Street is filled with benevolent boys and girls bent on creating and managing a healthy economy for everyone to enjoy, I have a bridge for sale. From the drug lords of Juarez to politicians in high places to the pimp in the alley to the aspiring VP wanting the corner office, power is the drug of choice. As John Stuart Mill smartly observed, “Men do not desire to be rich, only to be richer than other men”. And even in our best moments, we think of power as the way to manage peace in a world of bent and broken people.

If you’re a Jesus-worshipper (and doing that presupposes him as God), then you automatically buy into the idea that he’s God-come-in-the-flesh. And it’s Jesus who shocks everyone when he says, “Come to me—all you who are tired and weighed down—and I’ll personally give you rest.” Notice he doesn’t say, “Follow my seven habits and life will be better, but simply, “Come to me.”

But then he follows that up with:  “…for I am gentle and humble in heart.” Seriously? The One with all the power?

It freshly struck me the other day that I’ve never really thought of God Himself as being humble. After all, he’s omnipotent, not to mention omniscient, omnipresent…omnieverything. If you believe in a personalized First Cause of any sort, it’s hard to not be awed.

But humble? Really?—God is humble?

If the Second Adam came in the shape of God, then He—Creator, Judge, Savior, Sustainer, Reconciler, God—says with simple, nakedly-honest self-awareness: I am humble. Think about it: no one can do that but God. Try it yourself and see where it gets you with your co-workers.

Suddenly Abraham’s promise followed by centuries of prophetic announcements regarding the “great and terrible day of the Lord” are shaded in radically different colors. Matter-of-factly, Peter confidently states on Pentecost that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is what God was really describing when He spoke of the “great day of the Lord.” In other words: it’s already happened and happening.

Translation: God looks at power very differently than we do.

It also means that the way to bless the world will never be by power. Be honest: in our most benevolent times when we dream about how we would rule the world if we were king, we still have to admit that all the power in the world can’t change the human heart. And that’s the power of Jesus.

Maybe it’s time we Christians reconsider how we think about power. In relationships. In politics. In culture. In organizations. In every way.

I’m not talking about abdication. But wouldn’t it behoove us to take some time to wrestle with this question: How did Jesus bless the world? Wouldn’t that be worth emulating? And is the servant (us) ever above the master (Jesus) in terms of practice or priority? That’s a rhetorical question.

How serious are we about blessing the whole world?

I’m not sure.

“Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the LORD Almighty. (Zechariah 4:6b)


  1. wheels a turning---- good blog Dave!!!

  2. "The Outward Focused Life" becoming a servant in a serve-me world. That's a good start !!