Although not the only deep characteristic of the human being, the desire for power is certainly one of them. Nietzsche correctly recognized its role in human institutions when he stressed the humans’ will to power. One of the books on my shelves, The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Green (Penguin Putnam Inc, 1998), provides tons (a slight exaggeration) of examples of how power has been employed in the story of humanity.
Normally we study how power manifests itself in our interpersonal human relations. It can be seen across institutions from schools to corporations, marriages to churches, governments to the military, and to the many subsets of the categories just mentioned. It is so pervasive that it is an understatement to say that the exercise of power colors much, if not virtually all, of what we do during our span on this planet Earth.
At the same time, the desire to possess and to exercise power is so deep in the human psyche that it also colors our approach to God, our understanding of God, and our relationship with God. Because we humans are so taken up with the exercise of power, our tendency is to try to make God our servant, trying to exercise power over God. It doesn’t work, of course, but we try to do it anyway. If we were successful, it would prove that the God we worship is only a figment of our imagination rather than the omnipotent creator and sustainer of the universe.
The theme arose very recently in my Jesus and the Gospels course for Crown College. We were giving attention to Jesus’ temptation experience in the wilderness. When looking specifically at the temptation that Jesus jump from the Temple’s pinnacle into the Temple courtyard, we read how Satan quotes from Psalm 91 that Father God would be at the Son’s beck and call, sending angels to prevent Jesus from suffering any harm .
What we see in this episode is that Jesus was being tempted to “use” Father God, to have power over the Father, calling the shots as to what and when the Father would respond on behalf of the Son. I pointed out to the class that it was parallel to our getting ourselves into messes by disobedience and then expecting God to bail us out. If He doesn’t, we get upset. We apparently don’t accept the fact that we can’t obligate God to do anything. He obligates Himself to Himself, but we don’t obligate Him. But, our will to power is deeply ingrained.
At this point, one of the students raised the matter of the Triune God. She said, “it appears that your explanation of Jesus’ obedience to the Father separates the Trinity an awful lot.” I responded by saying that in fact what Satan wanted was that there be a separation of the Father and the Son.
By rejecting the temptation, Jesus was saying, “No, Satan. The Father and I are so united in this plan of human salvation that you cannot make me depart from Him. I will obey Him to the last degree. That is how close we are and will continue to be.” Jesus’ rejection of the Satanic temptation flowed from Jesus’ refusal to be engaged in any semblance of power plays with Father God.
Among other things, Jesus shows the way concerning the exercise of power. There is a reason for Lord Acton’s refrain to Mandell Creighton in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Acton knew what we humans naturally are.