I think I mentioned in a post before about wanting to work through a theological understanding of power. My current thoughts have revolved around the idea that if God’s power is most fully displayed on the cross, which is a sign of complete weakness and submission, how does that affect our notions of what Divine Power really is? How does the cross, the ultimate theophany (lit. revelation of God), affect our reading of other parts of the Bible?
I’ve wrestled through what most people mean when they say “X has a lot of power” or “X is a very powerful person.” I came to the conclusion that the core of what people mean by power is the ability to control or alter events. From this definition, it’s legitimate to say both that God has power and that people or things can have power. Along the same logic, power can be used for good and for evil. It fits in a certain understanding of God that says that God gives power to people and people (having free will and also sin) can corrupt that gift.
Here’s my problem with that definition: it leaves out the means of achieving change as a separate issue. In that logic, God is powerful because God can change/influence anything. But I think the cross shows us that God is powerful because of the means by which God changes the cosmos. God chooses the weak things of the world to shame the strong. The cross, by all worldly terms a failure and a sign of a weak God (a God who can be killed), is revealed as the means by which God does everything.
I think that with this understanding of God’s power, it significantly alters the way you read the entire Bible. It of course causes you to read the Bible backwards (the cross is the starting point through which we understand everything else). I’ve yet to work through all of the examples, but how does this understanding of God’s power change how you would read some of the violent wars of Israel’s past? I think there’s a way to read even the most difficult passages of the Bible through this lens; I daresay it might even help them make sense. Certainly all of Jesus’ talk about the Kingdom of God makes a lot more sense if we realize he’s not being metaphorical when he says the poor are blessed or that the widow’s offering of just a penny is more than all the rich people who gave out of their abundance.
The further implication (in my opinion) is a very modern, practical issue. It changes the way you talk and think about the “powers.” If I believe that true power is expressed through weakness, that automatically dismisses the government and the military (and many other things we call “powerful”) as holding any true power. It returns the notion of God as all powerful to God! God has all the power; God’s power is expressed through God’s willing servants taking up the cross, assuming a cruciform existence. The rest is illusion. Ascribing power to human-made things and institutions which don’t have any power is, biblically-speaking, idolatry.
Have we made government, military, certain people, even social justice-oriented things, into idols? I would answer that with an unequivocal “yes” even without this understanding of power, but the way I’m beginning to view God’s way of working in the world further proves to me of how idolatrous we are. And if you read the OT, that’s really the thing that over and over again God warns against. Be careful, God says, that you don’t take on the gods and false practices of other cultures; don’t give homage and ascribe power to things other than me.