I know that I’ve talked about it before on this blog, but now that I’ve begun to think about the word “power” differently, I notice the other uses more and more and see how potentially harmful it can be. What I stated below in the entry titled “Power,” is this:
Here’s my problem with [the usual] definition[of power]: 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.
Recently, I’ve been reading Richard Hays’ Moral Vision of the New Testament and he makes a similar comment regarding the re-definition of power especially in Paul’s gospel. I think many Christians would acknowledge this truth, that Jesus and the cross operate under a different kind of power. Yet I feel that while acknowledging it, many would refuse or fail to see the potential implications for how that could change our action in the world and reading of Scripture. For me, the most striking application is how and when we participate in government (voting, employment, political advocacy). I don’t know if those things are necessarily completely ruled out, but it must and does call us to a different prioritization of that kind of action (it’s no longer “powerful” to enact change that way. In fact it is weak–we must acknowledge that hoping for government change of the world is a weak way of participating in the redemption of God’s creation).
I’ve even had a very prominent, world-reknown writer and speaker quote to me nearly my exact understanding of power and in the same sentence utter a “but…” that re-emphasized the role of participating and changing government to be “good.”
My main problem is that thinking of power as big change is so incredibly limiting and paralyzing. If we believe something like execution on a cross is enough to kick start the entire beginning of the renewal of creation, then our individual and corporate lives might just have something to contribute as well. But if we have to wait for huge institutions like government and big corpoate non-profits to do the work God has set before us, then there is very little we can actually participate in. Representative democracy has its (few) merits, but a representative kingdom of God sounds awful to me. No thanks.
Another problem with thinking of power backwards is that it gives undue merit and weight to what are often the rotten and injust systems we’re supposed to be working to change. Those who resort to violence are not powerful, they’re weak. Those who take advantage of others, who oppress the poor, who further the marginalization of the most vulnerable–they are weak. Our God is powerful because the instruments of change God uses are in total contrast to the way the world works. Therefore, we are called to work as God works. The small, the mustard seed, one community at a time.
I continue to try and work out what the merits are of the way most people speak about power. What good does it do us to have such a broad and forgiving definition? Is it merely a matter of ease of speech and language? Isn’t it possible that even speaking about power that way shapes our understanding of God’s power incorrectly?