You’ve probably heard the discussion, usually in the context of politics or business, about what constitutes a “power tie.” Attention to this fashion detail serves as part of a larger agenda to project a persona to allow the individual to gain more power as much as to reflect existing power. (The power tie seems to be mostly a male game, but I’m probably just more ignorant of the female counterpart.)
The power tie reflects the way, in today’s climate, that one must not be too obvious in flaunting or seeking power. Consider the following illustration from the entertainment world.
Reese Witherspoon has generally been able to avoid the kinds of scandals that plague so many celebrities. Recently, however, when her husband was pulled over for driving while intoxicated – and she was in the car and under the influence as well – she committed a major celebrity faux pas. Ms. Witherspoon confronted the officer in the midst of doing his job with the question, “Do you know my name?”
This variation on “Do you know who I am?” particularly riles the rest of us common folk. We already know that celebrities get special treatment, but when they are so up front with their suggestion that they deserve deference even regarding violations of the law, the result is highly off-putting.
At the same time, how many of us would be happy to somehow attain a status that would bestow upon us such power? This desire adds to the unhealthy aspects of identity that prompt our attempts to distinguish ourselves or establish merit. God’s work to restore our identity through our identification with Jesus and his cross undermines these efforts.
Ironically, our problem goes back to the fact that God originally endowed humanity with great power: dominion over the entire creation. He continues to call us to that role, but the first sin corrupted and complicated our use of power. Below is a brief and incomplete survey of the “power problem” in the Bible:
- Adam and Eve’s dissatisfaction with their dominion and desire to be “like God” represents, among other things, a power play.
- The tower of Babel reflects a rejection of God’s will and an attempt to make the builders’ names great.
- God begins his work of redeeming his fallen creation through an unlikely couple whose most significant resource is their faith in God. The selection of Abraham and Sarah begins a recurrent theme of working through the unlikely and unpowerful.
- God manifests his power at times, but he primarily works through the weak to overthrow those who abuse their power.
- God gives Israel victory in warfare, but he frequently does so through unlikely means (the walls of Jericho, reducing Gideon’s army, David vs. Goliath). He also restricts Israel’s military buildup and generally prohibits common abuses in warfare. God’s use of Israelite warfare fades throughout the Old Testament and disappears before the time of Jesus.
- God enters his creation to overcome sin in the humblest possible fashion in Jesus’ birth.
- Jesus’ three temptations in the wilderness seek to persuade him to pursue the fallen human path to power, and he categorically rejects this path.
- Jesus refuses to pander to the power-seeking spirit of the day and warns his disciples against the danger.
- Jesus responds to Roman and Jewish power, and accomplishes his victory, in the humblest possible fashion on the cross.
- Jesus calls his disciples to the way of the cross and reminds us that his “strength is made perfect in weakness.”
- The Bible closes with small, weak churches facing pressures of various sorts from the Roman world. John’s visions remind these churches that “The Lion of the Tribe of Judah” who has won the victory did so as “the Lamb that bears the marks of slaughter.”
The Bible does not call us to powerlessness. As God reminds us, “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). History has demonstrated, however, that Christians are not immune to the typical abuse of power. As a result, we are to live like Jesus, serving as faithful witnesses who entrust God with all power. Like Jesus, we do not overcome by force, but by redemptive, sacrificial love.
The reason that God redeems in this way is not only the danger of our corruption by power. By power we could conquer and subjugate others. God himself can do that any time he desires. At present, however, his purpose is to soften hardened hearts and turn them back to him. Force cannot do that, but love can.