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Monday, April 19, 2010

God is Power

I want to continue blogging about this month's novel of the month. In this entry, I want to share a few thoughts and raise a few questions on how power relates to faith and our theology about God.

Big Brother is the symbol of absolute power in Orwell's novel 1984. In the story, all citizens are under constant watch by Big Brother. Big Brother sees all, knows all, is everywhere, and holds all power. The rule of Big Brother is, in fact, an exercise of power for power's sake. "God is power."

Love, on the other hand, empowers the other. Love sets free the lover; love risks being wounded by the one loved. Love is vulnerable and open, never coercive or controlling. Love "keeps no record of wrongs" and "always hopes," as it is put in 1 Corinthians 13.

So, what of God?

Theological conceptions of God are often mixed. God is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnipresent (in all places). God is the enforcer of justice, in the sense of keeping score of humanities virtues and vices. But God is also love.

I find that our conception of God often contains theologies of God as both all-powerful and loving. In God, power and love are conflated. God may punish us, but it is only for our good, to bring us back to our senses.

But notice that this is also the approach of Big Brother. When Winston is being tortured, he is told it is to shake him out of his confusion and make him sane. From Winston's perspective, he just wants to be free. He hates living under the gaze of Big Brother. For Big Brother, on the other hand, "freedom is slavery," a slogan that has an eerie similarity to many religions and many versions of Christianity.

To me it seems that if love is to be love, then it must relinquish any hold it has on power. This seems to me to be one of the most fundamental meanings of the cross. And I'm not alone in thinking this way. Paul in his letter to the Philippians says that Jesus Christ did not consider "being equal to God" as something to be grasped. Instead, he humbled himself into the "form" (morphe) of a servant. The Greek here is interesting, and I think it carries over into most English translations. Christ was in the "form" (morphe) of God, but chose to take on the "form" (morphe) of a servitude. Theologically, Philippians 2 presents the doctrine of "kenosis," that Christ "emptied" himself. God, in the form of Jesus Christ, empties himself. This is, I think, an exchange of power in an act of love.

Although the scriptures and the Christian tradition present a God of weakness, they also contain references to the God of power. How does one interpret this theologically? How does one appropriate this in life and spiritual practice? For many in the States (and in the modern West in general) the God of power is the sexiest and most dynamic theology to appropriate. It also fits well into an imperialistic philosophy of conquest and strength that has been one of the defining characteristics of the modern world. Even in the last decade, we in the States have been told that it is our duty to use power to spread democracy to the world.

Is God a God of power? Or a God of weakness? Does God take on the strategies of Big Brother? Does God act toward people like Big Brother toward Winston: using his power to break us and force us into “sanity.”

Is it possible that we read our own desires for power into God and religion? That God/religion/ideology becomes a front for our need to dominate and control?

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