(photo used courtesy of Darrin Hamlin)
This idea of Christians having power has been swirling around in my head for a little while now. Honestly, the grasp I have on it is nowhere near complete. What you’re reading is my processing, which is asking for your consideration. What if it’s true?
People lust for power. Culturally powerful people will give those without power things they want in exchange for more power. Power is a loaded word, and like most words, can be backloaded with meaning to where we’re not talking about the same thing. There are more buckets that could be used to define power, but I’m going to try to use a “not this, but that” way as I think is appropriate for a Christian talking about power. I’m not talking about the American evangelical religious right having enough power to sway votes. I’m talking about the power of God and the Gospel at work in the hearts of believers that flows out of them.
I’ve already published a couple posts (on intentionality and being two-faced) which this one seems to be a natural extension of. Where I’m going here could be thought of as the relevance of either of those.
Many may think the Bible is an antiquated book, and many may think it’s dry and irrelevant by how much they marinate themselves in it. Well, the time spent reading the Bible is good, but maybe a better way of thinking about it is do I think the Word of God is irrelevant when I spend a lot of time reading it but not a lot of time wrestling with it? Or when I approach the Bible, which one of us is the anvil that the malleable is being molded against? Who is the authority in the relationship? I think for me, some want had crept in where I couldn’t acknowledge that I’m just not getting some parts of it. Maybe I had molded the mysteries of Scripture against my pride versus allowing my doubts to be molded against Scripture. Wherever you stand with your view on the Bible and the authority it has, I’m point blank asking you to suspend your disbelief and follow where I’ve been processing.
Power in Offense
You did this to me. You hurt me. You ignored me. You left me out. You embarrassed me. You made me feel less of a person than you are. You let me down. You didn’t do what you said you would do. You broke an agreement. You betrayed me. You didn’t meet my expectations. You damaged what was mine. You took what was mine. You set me back. You messed up my plans. You did these things to someone close to me. The list could co on and on. An offense is a wrong committed.
Think about how you talk about someone. Can you hear even the slightest offense against them left in even your tone, let alone your words? Any mocking? Any dismissal? I can in mine.
Thinking about situations close to me and far from me (meaning if you feel this post could be about you, it may include you but it is also bigger than you), it seems like there is a lot of power in the hands of the offended. Whether or not the offense is real or perceived, whoever is the offended can wield that offense in an way that creates motion. Offense is a force, for better or for worse. It says, “What has happened is not the way it should be.” Offense calls for repentance. A change in heart that leads to a change in direction, not just behavior.
Three Powerful Forces
There could be more forces at work, and I’m not certain an argument for why I believe forces at work in the hearts of man can be distilled down into these three things is valuable here on a blog. From my Christian worldview, entertain for a moment that this is what is.
Love. Guilt. Forgiveness.
Love. Maybe we would define love as acceptance. Maybe representation. Maybe having a place at the table. All those things I would say they are part of love, but not the whole of it. From the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV) describes love this way. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Has this verse become so common that it has lost its weightiness? Love is power, but a shell or veneer of love is not.
Guilt. I like to talk about guilt either by saying we are all train wrecks, or we all walk with a limp. Offense is widespread because we simply aren’t good enough to walk through the journey of life without offending someone. Try it. “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good,” says C.S.Lewis. We’re going to do it, even if we are milquetoast or passive or figuratively walk on eggshells trying our best to avoid a conflict. Are you aware of micro-aggressions? Then there is another complicating and destructive dynamic. When I act like a jerk to someone, I naturally want to create distance between us because the guilt of whatever I’ve done is strong. When we do offend someone, we are powerless to reconcile that guilt. We can do our best to live at peace with others, but as the offenders, we are at the mercy of the offended. We can say I’m sorry and further ask for forgiveness, but until that forgiveness is made manifest, the offense remains. The offended holds the power. The question though, is this power satisfying, or is it a false power? Guilt is a lot like fear with motivation, or fear with dividing momentum. I would think fear is the root of it. It would seem that timeless truths are not antiquated. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. (1 John 4:18) How can we be loved perfectly when we know we’ve fallen short, though?
Forgiveness. This is power. Recalling back to our 1 Corinthians verse, love keeps no records of wrongs. Love is not resentful. Forgiveness is not the denial of a wrong done, but a love that sees the wrong yet chooses not to hold it against them anymore. In a sense, it is a law broken, and then a law released. It is saying, I will no longer bind you to your offense. Forgiveness is release and freedom. We see this potently in Luke 23:34 while Jesus was being brutally murdered in a public spectacle. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The power was not in the men who were killing him, but the power was in the hands of him who had every right to be offended, to say the least, and yet chose to extend love and forgiveness to his murderers instead. Further, we have denied the authority of the Bible and made it malleable against the anvil of ourselves, yet in love, God the Father (the offended) sent God the Son so we might be reconciled to Him. Power.
The Power in Christians
If you are not trusting in Jesus as God who forgives our sins, can you offer this kind of forgiveness to your offenders? Can you love someone beyond a surface level to where you will not hold their wrongs against you? But what of justice? How can we extend forgiveness when justice must be met? In Christ, Christians have not gotten what they deserved. They have offended man, but even deeper they have offended God. They have been forgiven, and proven God’s power might. Trusting that God is loving them, not holding their wrongs against them because Jesus met the demands of justice with his death on the cross, and that his resurrection proves it to be true is what makes a Christian a Christian. God is undoing the wrongs of this world, offenses against his holiness, with his love and forgiveness. I realize I am only one man and my capacity is only so high. Am I willing to love God and love others, others in my immediate circle and trusting the ones outside of that to God? Not that we aren’t to widen that circle of love to include whole people groups, but how can we love the whole world if we aren’t loving our closest neighbors in our own houses and streets?
Who are you to tell me this, anyway?
I’m someone who is processing a journey, too. Over the course of the few days that I’ve written this, there have been multiple offenses lodged in my own heart. It’s not satisfying to gratify these offenses. It’s like twisting the knife in my own leg trying to get it to heal. I’m saying this as someone who has tested the power of holding offense and found it wanting, yet somehow returns to it again and again, like a drunk who hates his drunkenness. A recent two weeks of comparison fueled depression drove some deep spikes into my mind. There’s no power in me myself. I’m someone who needs a savior, who in perfect love, casts out my fear to return to him after I’ve forgotten that he loves me. Again. And again. And again.