Yeah you and me we can ride on a star
If you stay with me girl, we can rule the world
We’ve been thinking about holiness together for the last few of months. We began with the foundations of holiness, in God himself, progressed through the character of holiness, the heart of holiness and then looked at the how of holiness.
In my last few posts I have started to examine how this affects three of the major areas of human life: money, sex and power. This week we’re thinking about the problems of power. Then we’ll follow that by examining how we understand power as Christians.
What is Power
First, what do we mean by power? Power is simply the ability to obtain something whether from other people or from somewhere else. It is a natural consequence of a world in which we are free and where we interact with each other.
Power isn’t limited to politics or business, each one of us has power in different ways and in different areas. For example, a parent has power over their children yet the child also has power over her parents.
Money brings us power. So does our looks or physical presence, Each of us will have power in particular areas and relationships.
Power itself is neither good nor bad. Yet as with anything powerful, power is dangerous if it isn’t handled properly.
I want to examine three of the problems that power presents us before looking at how we can follow Christ in our relationship with power.
The Problems of Power
We can learn a lot from the story of Adam and Eve. You can find it in Genesis 3.
Power Promises Autonomy but Brings Isolation
Part of the allure of power is the promise of independence. Healthy independence is good – we are designed to be autonomous individuals. Yet it can also be destructive. We are not only created to be independent, we are interdependent.
When we obtain what we want from other people by whatever means we can, we may become more autonomous but we also become more distant.
We can satisfy whatever desire we have without worrying whether it is what we were created to experience or
In the Biblical narrative when Adam and Eve took power for themselves they found that they were immediately alienated from each other and then from God and then from the world around them. There is a lesson here. We were not created to be alone. I need you and you need me. Together we need to be in relationship with God.
When we seek power over each other and against God we can jeopardise those relationships and we all suffer.
The promise of autonomy and happiness was true for a moment but in the end it was destructive.
Power Promises Significance but Corrodes Our Character
Adam and Eve wanted to be like God. They could not bear simply to be people.
I wonder how much ambition, how much desire to obtain promotion or fame, or control over people around us and our environment is driven by a deep anxiety and insecurity about who we are.
Deep down many of us desire to be the one who really matters. We may achieve some fleeting significance but we can do so at the expense of our characters.
We see this played out in our story as Adam immediately turns on Eve and Eve turns on the snake.
We see this pattern repeated throughout Scripture.
- Power can feed our pride.
- Power can blind us to what is important.
- Power can cause us to do things we wouldn’t otherwise dream of.
This is supported by contemporary research.
In 2010 journalist Jonathan Lehrer published an account of the work of Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at University of California, Berkley and Adam Galinsky, a psychologist at Northwestern University. Lehrer explains that in his work Keltner ‘compares the feeling of power to brain damage, noting that people with lots of authority tend to behave like neurological patients with a damaged orbito-frontal lobe, a brain area that’s crucial for empathy and decision-making.’ Similarly, Galinsky argues that ‘[the myopia of power] makes it much harder to imagine the world from the perspective of someone else.’
Power Promises Control but Controls Us
Finally, power is addictive – it promises control but comes to control us.
There are many ways to understand the story of Adam and Eve, one of which is to see it as essentially about the desire for power.
When the serpent comes to Eve he gives her the promise of wisdom that will make her like God. More than that, she is taking power over her husband and over the world around them.
It was not enough to have control over everything else around them; Adam and Eve had the chance to be like God and they took it.
In fact, so profound is the temptation to obtain and abuse power that it is among the temptations that Satan brings to Jesus at the beginning of his work. The story is told in Luke 4.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry…
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’
All of this could lead us to despair. But fear not! Christ shows us a better way. We’ll be thinking about this more next week.
You can find a book of 9 reflections covering the material I’ll be sharing in these posts by clicking here. You can also check out our website to hear talks on the same subject.
If you’re interested in reading more, here are some of the resources I have found particularly helpful and which I have used to prepare these articles.
Foster, Richard J., Money, Sex and Power (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2009)
Hays, Richard B., The Moral Vision of the New Testament (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1996)
Hosier, Matthew, Sex Talks (Amazon, 2011)
Piper, John, Living in the Light: Money, Sex and Power (Epsom: Good Book Company, 2016)
Wesley, John, The Complete Sermons (Hargreaves Publishing: Kindle Edition)
 Rule the World (2007, Take That)
 Jonah Lehrer. ‘The Psychology of Power’, Wired, 14 August 2010 < https://www.wired.com/2010/08/the-psychology-of-power/ > [accessed 16 November 2016]
 Luke 4:1-2, 5-8