by Michael Palmer
In our world, power is the currency for everything.
We are, daily, weekly, monthly and yearly, bombarded with this message: We are not safe; we should be afraid. We should be suspicious of one other. There is a darkness lurking, and we must sacrifice everything to defeat it.
Power, we’re told, is everything. Power, or the ability to take and protect what’s ours, is a lie as old as time. Fighting to gain this power, we find ourselves committing acts we never thought possible.
Safety through power, though, is ultimately a lie. In our desperate attempt to conquer, and in our never ending grasp for dominance, we find quickly the toll such paths take on our soul. Before we know it, power, and our attempts to attain and control it, leads us into a place we never believed we’d go. This realization prompted Lord Acton’s famous phrase, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Scripture is full of cautionary tales regarding power and the consequences of wielding our power over others.
In the Old Testament, we watched as King Saul descended into madness on the throne; jealous of those who threatened his rule. We watched King David murder in his fight for more, desperate to attain things he was sure were his for the taking. We watched the nation of Israel renounce their calling “to be a light,” and instead, pursue riches, military might, and prestige over God’s call to care for those among them.
Israel, even in the midst of being “religious” found themselves far from the God who called them. The story of Israel in the Old Testament is the story of a people who forgot their first love because of the siren song of glory and power.
Like Israel, we are tempted to pursue the shadow of power.
The shadow of power demands the removal of imago dei in others. Yet, you cannot destroy what is formed by God. You cannot make bleed what has been bled for.
It’s incredibly easy to maim the bodies when they pray to a different god, or revere a different city as holy. It’s easy to carelessly bomb schools or hospitals when it becomes a matter of “our kids or theirs.” The things we can justify in our search for power is endless.
“Kill them all,” we’re told. “Let God sort them out.”
“Hate,” we’re told, “those who look, talk and love differently than us.”
Hate that which is different. Cling to that which is familiar.
Friends, this “alternate reality” is a false idol, a dark narrative, and a shadow gospel.
It’s no wonder Jesus spent his entire ministry teaching people to give power away. From his very birth, Jesus demonstrated what it means to live a holy life. Holiness is the act of giving power away.
This is described by Paul in the beautiful Kenosis hymn (Phillipians 2:6-8),
[Jesus], being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
We serve a God whose very nature places power secondary. We serve a God who chose to take on the form of man, descend into our pain, our hate, our anger, and instead of turning that wrath back upon us, our messiah chose to die at the hands of the his creation. We follow a God who voluntarily submitted to a gruesome death so we might find grace.
The Christian Church is a tribe which has watched the turmoil wrought by power and has chosen to voluntarily surrender their power. We are a Church who follows this backwards journey, this upside-down Kingdom, and we’re a church who is willing to take this counter-cultural belief all the way to our graves because we know in our graves, we don’t find death. No, in the laying down of our lives, in the deepest of graves our enemies attempt to bury us in, we experience not death, but resurrection.
Our world desperately needs to rediscover this good news, this resurrection. Our world needs a new imagination. Our world needs our example. May we defend those under the heel of the powerful. May we name the ways we’re sacrificing our humanity in order to get drunk on power, because we can only serve one master. We can only have one king. We can only pledge our heart to one Kingdom.
A Kingdom which serves an uncontrolling God.
A God who invites.
A God who woos.
A God who loves.
Michael R. Palmer is a husband, father, ordained elder, and writer who serves as pastor (along with his wife, Elizabeth) of Living Vine Church of the Nazarene in Napa, California. He is an avid Cardinals fan, lover of blues and jazz, conversational instigator, and deeply passionate about issues of justice and spiritual formation. You can follow him on Twitter at @michaelrpalmer and Facebook at @mryanpalmer85.