The gospel of lost power

Posted: June 20, 2012 by J in Bible, Theology

When the world calls for empowerment, we evangelicals push back. ‘Empowerment’ sounds too much like self-help, too lefty, too secular. What those oppressed people in the slums need is not power: it’s God.

This caution about humanity’s love of power is fair enough. So often power corrupts. It’s true that in the Scriptures God is heard condemning human pride. It’s true that the desire to be free of God’s rule is core to the human problem. It’s true that his power is contrasted with our weakness. And that we are encouraged to acknowledge that weakness, and trust in his power.

It’s also true that Jesus’ ultimate expression of his humanity came at the cross where he died in weakness.

But unfortunately a number of things that the gospel has to say about human power tend to be overlooked.

For one thing, the great power which the NT sees ranged against God’s rule, is not human but demonic. ‘We wrestle not against flesh and blood but against…the cosmic powers of this present darkness’ (Eph. 6). And in this picture mankind is not powerful against God, he is enslaved under the devil. Man, the once powerful image-bearer of God and lord of the earth, is reduced to a simpering slave, helpless in the hands of a cruel master. In concentrating on man’s rebellion, we have often missed the bigger picture painted by Scripture. God’s rival and opponent never was man: it was always Satan.

In that light, it has been a fundamental mistake to pit man’s power and self-rule and God’s rule on opposite sides of the conflict, as though they were alternatives. In reality the two powers belong on the same side.

Man, though weak compared to God, was intended to be strong through God, and rule the world in his name, as his image. It is only as man turned and was enslaved that:

a. he lost most of his power

b. his remaining strength was often employed in the service of evil

But when man exercises demonic power, he is not ruler but puppet of the dark master. ‘Self-rule’ in particular is long gone. The most extreme example of man away from God’s rule would have to be the Gedarene demoniac of Luke 8 – and he is a most pitiable creature.

In short, perhaps we have been unwise to frame the conflict in our world too narrowly in terms of human rebellion. Perhaps ‘enslavement to dark powers‘ might be an image that better catches the drift of the gospel story.

Tomorrow: Jesus, the powerful man

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