Power and Christian Spirituality

The Christian and Power

Christians are understandably nervous about power.

You know the saying, “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

But at its most basic level, power is “being able to do what you want.”  Therefore it is no different from strength, except that its associations transcend the athletic capacities of the physical body. And while we often want what is evil, this is not always so. Power is morally neutral in this sense.

I do not think that power is bad. Sought for its own sake, power is an idol. But that is true of food, sex, spiritual disciplines, romance, justice, and essentially everything but God or “the good.”

Power is a good, and as such has its place in the Christian moral landscape. I’ve written about Proverbs 24 before, but there’s more to say about it.

Go ahead and read this twice:

Pro 24:1-12 ESV Be not envious of evil men, nor desire to be with them, (2) for their hearts devise violence, and their lips talk of trouble. (3) By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; (4) by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches. (5) A wise man is full of strength, and a man of knowledge enhances his might, (6) for by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory.

 

(7) Wisdom is too high for a fool; in the gate he does not open his mouth. (8) Whoever plans to do evil will be called a schemer. (9) The devising of folly is sin, and the scoffer is an abomination to mankind. (10) If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. (11) Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. (12) If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?

Now, there are different kinds of power/strength. But nevertheless this chunk of Proverbs says at the very least to get:

  1. wisdom
  2. knowledge
  3. might/strength
  4. wise counsel

A favorite genre in the Bible is that of praising/shaming two groups. One of ideal goodness and the other of typological badness. This rhetoric encourages us to place ourselves firmly in one category. The passage above praises:

  1. The wise
  2. Those with knowledge
  3. The strong
  4. Those who increase their might
  5. Those who use wise counsel to overcome obstacles
  6. The steadfast
  7. Those who protect the weak

The passage is shaming:

  1. The wicked
  2. Those who envy the wicked
  3. Individuals who do not increase their strength, wisdom, knowledge
  4. Those who plan evil instead of good
  5. Any who pretend not to see the plight of the weak

Why Seek Power?

I propose that if you have power and use it wisely and justly, you do not have to envy the wicked and you can wage your various wars*, survive adversity, and assist/protect the weak. Solomon praises several dimensions of power throughout Proverbs:**

  1. Financial – earnings, savings, and generosity
  2. Physical – heath of body
  3. Vocational skill – the ability to do something well
  4. Personal – ones persuasiveness and charisma
  5. Cognitive – ones problem solving ability
  6. Emotional – managing  your feelings is crucial
  7. Spiritual/moral – one’s habitual reliance on God and ability to say no to sin (see Hebrews 12 especially), it encompasses all the others because a spiritually strong person can manage poverty or wealth well, can deal with a strong or weak body, and so-on.

Indeed, the biblical authors only disparage human strength when it is arrayed against the purposes of God. The Bible assumes that humanity, with God’s grace, will develop strength. Taking dominion over nature requires persistent growth in power (in all its dimensions).

My point is to encourage Christians to actually seek power and strength. That sounds so weird to say, but again, Jesus says, “Be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.” Grow in goodness, including the ability to make the good happen. That’s what he’s saying. His statement assumes the background of passages like Proverbs 24.

Closing Questions:

  1. What are you doing to grow in power?
  2. Is it working?
  3. Finally, are you growing in spiritual and moral power?

Notes

*The text may refer to literal wars if Proverbs was written for kings, but warfare is a metaphor in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes for the scribal struggle for wisdom.

**I intentionally left political power out.

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