‘Look, Daddy, I can write!’ said my little girl to me today, holding out her notebook of alphabet doodles. This caused me to reflect on the joy of being able, which has been such a theme in our children’s early years. Most days I am urged to ‘Look what I can do!’ And then there’s ‘No, I can do it!!’, the regular complaint around here whenever parental help is not appreciated. As our eldest used to put it when two years old: ‘Steffi do!’
It’s not just littlies either, is it. The joy of mastery, of conquering a challenge and learning how, can be just as strong at any age, whether it’s passing the driving test, cooking a new recipe, or being able to walk unassisted in old age. The exercise of power – it’s a very natural pleasure pretty much common to all mankind.
Of course there’s a distorted side to this love of power, isn’t there. We evangelicals have tended to view the story of mankind as one of rebellion: we humans tried (and try) to overthrow God and assume his place. We want to rule ourselves and the world, instead of having God rule us. For us, the great sin is pride: the idea man has that he is strong and independent, top of the cosmic pecking order. The love of power is the failing that ruined the world, the disease that turns man into monster.
With this as our story, we tend to describe the human problem in terms of autonomy, and contrast it with submission to God. These are the options: self-rule or God’s rule. Our power or the power of God. Sinful pride vs humble trust.
When the world talks so much about empowerment, we find ourselves pointing to that as precisely the problem. If only they would give up on man’s power, and turn to God’s!
This emphasis of ours runs into a few problems…
Tomorrow: The Gospel vs Empowerment?