Using Power

By Ward Shope

Several weeks ago, a number of us from New Life attended Diane Langberg’s day-long seminar on domestic abuse.  She began by talking about power.  All of us have at least some – even those who feel powerless.  The key to power is what we use it for.  Do we use it to bless, or do we abuse it to the benefit of ourselves and the detriment of others.

I remember realizing as an elementary school child that I was significantly bigger and stronger than my younger nephew visiting us from out of state.  That was unusual for me.  My younger brother was always as big as I was, and there was no way I would tangle with my older sisters.  I was among the smallest, if not the smallest, in my class at school.  So recognizing this rare imbalance of power in my favor, I remember twisting his arm to move him out of the way.  To this day, I remember the hurt appear on his face and the tears well up in his eyes.  I only hope he didn’t remember it all his days as vividly as I do.

In the late 19th century, John Dahlberg wrote, “Power tends to corrupt…”  That shouldn’t surprise us.  Most people, actually all of us, use power for our own benefit.  Selfishness, that state of mind which declares ourselves to be god, sees nothing wrong with using whatever power we have to please ourselves.  At the same time, it rarely considers the impact the use of power may have on someone else who supplies whatever “god” wants.  And thus – abuse and oppression.

Langberg shared that research studies show that those who have more power tend to correlate with those who have less empathy for others.  In other words, I don’t consider what it took others to make my fondest clothes, or the parts to my favorite gadgets.  Maybe it’s all on the up and up, but I don’t really think about it – and it does provide them a living, right?

Dahlberg went on in his letter, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Certainly, as we move toward the pinnacle of power in a household, in a city, in a country, crushing abuse becomes more attainable and others become more vulnerable.  The elite have multiple opportunities and modes to enforce their will on others.

Yet, Dahlberg was wrong in the ultimate sense.  There is only One Ultimate Power in the universe, and He is incorruptible.  Over and over again, God uses his power for the blessing of his creation and for the good of the people he has made.  We may not see it that way on this side of eternity.  It certainly does not feel like it at times.

But the proof is in the way he handles power regarding himself.  While he simply could righteously judge the world and be on his merry way to use his power for better pleasure, the Powerful One places himself into the hands of the corrupt who simply do what power inevitably leads to: they unfairly place him on the cross.  It isn’t that he can’t call on “12 legions of angels” to rescue him or that he can’t “come down from the cross” as he is berated.  But that would only benefit himself.  Instead he reserves his power for the only thing he considers worth saving – weak and corrupted human beings.  In the resurrection, he overpowers death.

Show me a stronger power.  Show me a more beneficial power.  I selfishly twist an arm.  He breaks death for me.  It teaches me not to trust my own power, and to give his power all the room it needs.