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Part 10 – Initially laying out “The exercise of power”

Sam found the first section of Mr. Im’s study to be very accessible. He saw that the issue of fear was implicit throughout. He also picked up how Mr. Im placed the context for understanding fear – It was captured by the question, “How much power does the author of the original “note on the desk” have? If he doesn’t have power, what does it matter whether ‘they like him or fear him?’”   . . . . So, Sam was anxious to see what Mr. Im was going to provide in this second installment. . . . . When it arrived, this is what Sam found:

Initially laying out The Exercise Of Power

“John is a powerful person!” “Michael calls the shots in his corporation.” “The buck stops on Rhoda’s desk.” “Everyone has to answer to Mark.”

These expressions make us think about power people. We know them. We work for them. We may be married to one of them. One of our parents may be one. A teacher may qualify. The list could go on and on.

What does it mean when saying that a person is exercising power, or attempting to exercise power? Although abbreviated, a working statement is that the power person “changes, or consciously prohibits changes, in the behavior of other people.” True enough, this is a generalization, and as such it begs for illustration and clarification. As a global statement, it refers to something that is happening all around us, and even in us as others exercise power over us and/or we exercise power over them

What does it mean when saying that a person is exercising power, or attempting to exercise power? Although abbreviated, a working statement is that the power person “changes, or consciously prohibits changes, in the behavior of other people.” True enough, this is a generalization, and as such it begs for illustration and clarification. As a global statement, it refers to something that is happening all around us, and even in us as others exercise power over us and/or we exercise power over them.

It helps to refer to exercising power in the non-animate sector of reality.   We exercise power over inanimate objects when we move them, or stop their movement. We exercise power when we modify the appearance of things, such as when I was painting the entrance way to one of my daughter’s home several days ago. The chemists exercises power over the chemicals when mixing them in a test tube to produce a substance that would not have occurred without the mixing process. The bricklayers exercise power when building a wall or façade.   These people are making something happen that would not happen without conscious action on their part. In so doing, they are exercising power. They have made a change in the status quo, or blocked a conscious attempt to change the status quo.

Please note that the references in the prior paragraph are not meant to imply that the exercise of power among humans is reducible to what happens when a falling brick moves another brick to a different location. Furthermore, the human exercise of power goes far beyond what we humans do with and to inanimate or impersonal objects. In this study, the exercise of power is limited to what happens when person A attempts to determine the behavior of person B.

Politicians have power over their staff. Parents have power over their children when they effectuate changes in their behavior. On the other hand, the children are exercising power over their parents when they resist the parents’ efforts to change the child’s conduct. The labor union person exercises power when refusing to acquiesce to a court order to return to work. A manager exercises power when permitting an employee to returns to work so that employee is not fired for absenteeism.

One final word – Some (perhaps most) people exercise power without having formally studied the issue. Particular techniques, dynamics, or elements (as I have labeled them) can be identified in our daily lives. The same is true about Jesus’ life.   Other times these elements will be more subtly involved; that will not make them less important.

Element # 1: Varying degrees of resistance and/or collaboration

Can we identify the elements that are involved in the attempts to exercise power? To a large extent, we can. In the following paragraphs, I wish to highlight them (or at least the ones that I believe are critical). Further development of the elements will follow later. [NOTE: I don’t pretend to have ranked the elements by their importance.] I begin by referring to resistance and/or collaboration.

The exercise of power (the attempt by someone to be an agent of change) is conditioned by the quantity of resistance offered against the proposed change. That seems rather straight forward; but its importance cannot be ignored.

When someone introduces a change in the way things are done (an attempt to exercise power), the change agent meets a response that can range from extreme resistance to no resistance at all. The opposition may be physically violent, there may be extreme verbal attacks, insults, false accusation, etc,.   In these cases, the resistance can be so extreme that change will happen only when brute force is used. Or, the change may not happen only because brute force is employed by those rejecting the proposed change of action or behavior.

The change is determined solely by the one exercising the greater physical power. In the case of humans, this “brute” force most likely will be some kind of violence.

On the other extreme, there may be fully supportive collaboration and assistance when the change is proposed.   In fact, the collaboration might be such so strong that we even question whether power is even involved.

Element #2: Recourse to brute force.

It is common that when we exercise power (effectuate a change) without the actual use of “brute” force, we still have a degree of access to “brute” force. All of us, at some time and out of fear, have done what we were told to do. We feared physical damage being done to us if we refuse. The person effectuating the change perhaps didn’t actually use “brute” force, but we knew it could have been used if we would not have obeyed their command or “wish”. It was the threat of that “brute” force that made the difference.

Having recourse to “brute” force is what keeps some persons in positions of power. One can think of dictators who have their opposition eliminated and then publicize or leak the fact. The publication of the fact is meant to intimidate others who are considering opposing the policies and practices of the dictator. In last analysis, the recourse to “brute” force, or violence, makes the exercise of power possible. Although the degree is vastly different, and hopefully the motivation is also vastly different, the element is similar to when parents threaten the child with a spanking in the case of disobedience. The threat is effective only as long as the child is convinced that there is substance behind the threat. [Please Note – the references to spanking a child and to torturing to death a person is in no way affirming that the spanking and the torturous death are moral equivalents!!]

This is the context for mentioning two important words in the New Testament part of the Bible, the Greek words exousia and dunamis. The New Testament (originally written in Greek) employs both words that have been commonly (although not exclusively) translated into the single English word ”power”. Dunamis (employed 119 times in the 27 books that comprise the New Testament) refers to miracles and to physical power. The English word “dynamite” is related to dunamis. It is brute power.   A person having the dunamis kind of power can effectuate change. In the Old Testament part of the Bible, God showed that He has this kind of power. In the New Testament, Jesus showed that He has this kind of power.

I refer to the frequency of exousia and dunamis to draw attention to the importance of ”power” in the New Testament. The theme is also of critical importance in the Old Testament.

It is safe to say that God has used Scripture to point to the nature and exercise of power and politics among competing Israelites during their kingdom eras. Comparable material is found in the narratives that involve the non-Jewish empires and kingdoms.

Of course, God is not the only one who has referred extensively to the issue of power. Throughout human history, philosophers, political and power figures, social scientists, military people, writers, playwrights, film makers, and musicians, have explained their views and understanding of power. Nations have risen and fallen because of the different ways power has been exercised.

At this juncture it is important to recognized that although the exousia kind of power (authority, dominion, right) is ultimately based upon the recourse to the dunamis kind of power (“brute” force), the exousia power does not normally have to go to the dunamis extreme to produce change. It is true that history is full of examples of kings, despots, dictators, etc., maintaining their authority by reverting to the use of physical power. But, the more typical modus operandi is for rulers to achieve their ends without reverting to physical violence.

Jesus employed both dunamis and exousia, making him the LORD in the fullest sense of the word. He gives evidence of His ability to employ dunamis power, leaving the disciples speechless. Their conclusion was “This person (Jesus) is simply out of the ordinary. He does things no one else can do. He has power (dunamis) that no one else has. Who else can change weather with a word? Who else can put life into a three day dead corpse? Who else can feed thousands of people with several pieces of bread and a few fish? Jesus is a dunamis power figure.”

Concerning exousia, Jesus assumes authority. He speaks with authority and expects obedience. He gives orders and expects compliance. He establishes Himself as the final authority for not only His willing followers, but also for his opponents. At the same time, Jesus’ followers grant authority to Him. Jesus’ authority with His followers is dynamic; Jesus expects to exercise authority and His followers expect Him to exercise authority. Since it is dynamic, we see situations in the Gospels (the books narrating Jesus’ life) when Jesus’ followers challenge His authority, at least for a while.

Although it may seem radical for some people, realism forces us to recognize the following. Those who do not comply with Jesus’ exousia power will ultimately face his dunamis power. Jesus is the LORD, and there is no escaping that fact. Circumstances and time will eventually combine for Jesus’ dunamis power to act in full force. If compliance to the commands of Jesus is not willful, compliance to the consequences of disobedience will eventually occur. There is ultimately no avoiding Jesus as the ultimate power figure.