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Thursday, May 7, 2015

Thank God, Not All Power Corrupts

Sir John Dalberg-Acton (1824-1902)
"All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

I've always endorsed this saying based on all the examples in history that seem to verify it. But is it universally true?

The original statement is found in a letter by The Right Honourable Lord John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, Catholic historian and member of Parliament, which he penned to Bishop Mendell Creighton in 1867, as follows:

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you superadd the tendency of the certainty of corruption by authority.”

This view of power blends well with our Mennonite emphases on virtues like "Demut" (humility) and "Gelassenheit" (yieldedness), along with whatever belief we may have that humans are essentially bad. But how might that overlook our need for having a healthy sense of personal and communal empowerment?

Power in its essence, is simply the wherewithal to accomplish things. Without it we would be as useless as a vehicle without an engine, an engine without fuel, or a light bulb without a power source. So having effective power is not only a good thing but an absolutely necessary thing.

I've found it helpful to identify three categories of power, as follows:

Harmful (Evil) Power (never acceptable):

Violence
Coercian
Force
Domination
Manipulation
Seduction
Threats

Note: These are often things we often resort to in a state of desperation and weakness.

Human (Universal) Power (may be used in either acceptable or unacceptable ways):

Education and experience
Age or maturity
Wealth and possessions
Intelligence, knowledge
Status, titles, degrees, positions
Race, ethnicity or national origin
Physical stature and strength
Gender, marital status
Charisma, personality traits
Talents, skills and special abilities

Note: We all have plenty of assets and benefits with which we can accomplish great things--or we can use in self-serving ways (note the kinds of human power Lord Acton himself undoubtedly had!).

Holy (Godly) Power (always acceptable and appropriate)

Love, joy, peace, patience and other "fruit of the Spirit"
Christ-like influence and example
Prayer and intercession
Ministries of kindness and mercy
Acts of justice and liberation
Peacemaking and reconciling
Appealing and persuading
Being unselfishly hospitable and invitational

Note: We can all be transformed into having these "super-natural" expressions become a more natural and powerful part of our everyday lives.

Here are some favorite texts that celebrate having lots of good power:

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.... And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.  
Ephesians 3:16-20 (New Living Translation)

I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. 
Ephesians 1:19-20 (NLT)

Here's a link to an earlier post expressing my frustration at our tendency to see ourselves as powerless.
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