Part 9 — The first section arrives. . Thinking Christianly About Power
The first section of Mr. Im’s material arrived at Sam’s office, on Friday, which gave Sam the weekend to get started. Sam had no idea what format the material would follow, how long it would be, what orientation it would take, nor what demands it would make on him. He wanted to understand this issue of power, especially in light of what he speculated was behind the original note left in Mr. Im’s house and on his desk.
“So, let’s start”, Sam said to himself.
Turning to the first page, Sam was struck by the title, which was first time the word “Christian” had come up in the conversations between him and Mr. Im. The title was “Thinking Christianly About Power”. Sam was also struck by the fact that the title did not include a specific reference to fear. That had been a key element in Sam’s questions when they had last met. Sam’s mind went, almost instinctively to “bait and switch”. Would Mr. Im do that? Although Sam had no conscious reason to think that way, it did cross his mind. Sam granted Mr. Im the prerogative to make the linkage between power and fear. He wanted to see how the paper would develop.
The first the section wasn’t really all that long. He was thinking that perhaps the sections would be ten to fifteen pages. But, the first section wasn’t anywhere close to that. Did the brevity (compared to what Sam had imagined) imply a secondary message? That would be for Sam to figure out once into his reading.
Thinking Christianly about the exercise of power
Interest in the topic
For various reasons and for many years the theme of this small book, Thinking Christianly about the Exercise of Power: Viewed from a Christian Perspective, has captivated me. It began several decades ago when a local church congregation, on a different continent and thousands of miles away from where I am writing this book, asked me to lead the attendees in a study for their week-end retreat. Since the retreat was scheduled for Good Friday through Easter Sunday, I found myself contemplating Jesus’ resurrection as an incident and exercise of power.
Of course, Jesus’ resurrection was more than that, but certainly it was not less. Preparing for those studies was the catalyst for what became my ongoing fascination concerning the exercise of power. I began with the simple question: What makes any particular event a power event? In the case of Jesus’ death, I didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that he was the victim of power-people’s plans and actions. After all, Jesus didn’t himself pound those nails that held his feet and hands to the cross. And, killing Jesus publicly on a cross as a spectacle didn’t make him any more dead that if they had killed him in the depths of some Roman dungeon. There was more to it than just wanting to reduce the population density in Jerusalem’s by one person during the Passover Week of that particular year.
The simple question about the exercise of power in relation to Jesus’ death became a thread that, when pulled on, began to lead me to more and more questions. Answers for these questions took me further into the topic. Before long, patterns began to emerge. The patterns began to provide some answers, while also raising even further questions. Finally, many years later, this book has taken shape.
On the contemporary political level
In contemporary society, at least in the society I best know, the exercise of power captivates people both individually and collectively. Governmental power ploys and struggles are part of the everyday news. In the United States, the two major national political parties strive for power. In general terms, each of the two parties views the other as an adversary.
What is the prize for winning the “game” between the two parties? Although rarely admitted in forthright language, the prize is that of having power over the general population. For the sake of maintaining good will with the voters, the power of the elected officials is re-labeled as the “granting of benefits and rights”.
While the activity mentioned in the previous paragraphs is going on, the various leaders within each party also compete with each other in the exercises of power
An examination of the prevalence and mechanisms of political power plays across the globe, in countries other than the United States, quickly confirms that the United States does not monopolize the exercise of power politics. Do we understand that reality? Do we know how it works when reduced to the basics?
On the interpersonal level
It should be said, at this point however, that the exercise of power goes far beyond the political arena. We see it in all levels of social institutions, of which there is a plethora. We are, as some describe the humans, “social animals”. There may be some relatively Lone Rangers or hermits. But, most of us live and interact with others in some kind or society. Living in society, however, does not, by definition, mean that we live well in society.
The reality is that life itself is a power struggle. From birth, through youth, and on into adulthood, we humans struggle with both who and what surrounds us. We even refer to “the struggle to live” and the “struggle to survive.” Most of those struggles are not with nature per se. They are with other people.
Our social skills permit us to sense that other, few or many, wants to impose their will upon us¸ to force us to do what they want us to do, in contrast to wanting us to be able to do what we want to do. It may be an older brother or sister, parent, teacher, coach, soldier, police officer, or even our spouse. Friction, in terms of the exercise of power, is part of our life. Power struggles appear to be inescapable; they seem to simply be part of human existence. They are not new. They are not getting fewer. In fact, the growth of the world’s population, with humans being as we are, means that there are more power struggles now than ever in human history. It goes with the human turf.
For the Christian
Beyond what has been said in the previous paragraphs, the matter interests Christians for even another reason. We desire to be victorious over what impedes a satisfying relationship with God. In this context, we can use the word sin, but other terms are also viable. We do not like to have sin (or the term of your choice) exercising power over us. We know that God is greater than sin, and we know He lives within us. “Why,” we ask, “do we see sin dominating, conquering, or having power, over us?” Is there no power source available to the Christian that can rectify this situation?
There is at least one other reason why Christians are (or should be) interested in the exercise of power. That reason has to do with our understanding of the dynamics of Jesus’ life during His time on earth. If we ignore the fact that Jesus was a teacher, or that He was a miracle worker, or that He formed a group of followers, our resulting portrait of Jesus will be faulty and/or diminished. And in a similar fashion, if we fail to see how Jesus handled the power struggles into which he was thrust due to his roles and purposes, we will miss a critically important key to properly interpreting Him.
In such a case, the resulting view of Jesus will be faulty. In some cases our view of Jesus will be bland or superficial. I do not claim that the issue of power is ”the” secret that holds all of Jesus’ life together. In some events, the power issue is obvious. Other times, it lies below the surface.
The power issue in Jesus’ life shows up early, beginning in the passages relating to His birth and early childhood when Herod wanted to kill the infants in Judea. It shows up in the Temptation episode Jesus had in the Wilderness. The exercise of power was of critical importance in Jesus’ relationship with both disciples and opponents. The crucifixion of Jesus was, from the adversaries’ point of view, an attempt to maintain power and position. They had lost a certain amount of clout among the populace and their only recourse was to eliminate the competition. From the disciples’ point of view, the crucifixion was the defeat of their champion. The opponents had regained their lost power, and Jesus’ disciples were lost in both fear and frustration upon Jesus’ death.
purposes of this study
This study has a two-fold purposes. One is to present a particular understanding, or view, of what the exercise of power is and how it works. A second purpose is to deal with questions like: “Is the exercise of power a blessing or a curse?” . . . Is the exercise of power a catalyst for fear or for peace? . . . Is it realistic to think that we can live “above” fear in a world that seems to think fear is the sure fire way to success?
In trying to achieve these two purposes, the author will refer to both biblical and non-biblical material. That is unavoidable due to the nature of the theme and the extent of the exercise of power in human life.