Power and Powerlessness

Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  This is a truism with which we are all familiar.  The lack of power also corrupts, in that it relieves us of responsibility – and the absolute lack of power also corrupts absolutely by excusing us from any accountability for our actions.

It follows, I think, that for this reason the only place in which a good human life can be lived is in that uncomfortable tension between the two, so that the question before us must always be one of obedience rather than servility.

Some believe that our choices are predestined by the chemical makeup of our brains and bodies, and we are therefore powerless to change them.  But even if this is so, it is the actions we take in this lifetime of choices that bring us from our infantile potentials to the way in which those potentials are finally lived
out. Even accepting predestination, it is through life in the realm of tension between power and powerlessness that our true character and – dare I say it – worth is proven out.

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3 Responses to Power and Powerlessness

  1. An interesting and profound post, Susan.
    I’m not sure power or lack of power enters the picture in terms of responsibility and worth. I believe as human beings we want to do what we want when we want to, if we can get away with it. Power simply gives us more opportunity on a grander scale. This is human nature (for Christians we call it fallen nature). We must be challenged to a higher good, for Christians this is the authority of God, in order to lead responsible lives. We become indeed servants of one another, servile if you will, as we become obedient to God. God alone is the source of true power, and in doing his will we achieve who we are meant to be, our true potentials. Predestination is a difficult concept for us to understand. It is the knowledge of God outside of time. We are in time and we choose each minute, each hour and each day whether to live in obedience and as servants to God. It is how we choose that decides our true worth, but even so, we are loved by him. It is God who teaches us how to be accountable, how to be good, how, in the end, to love one another.

  2. Susan says:

    Christine, I always appreciate your comments! But it’s hard for me to see how someone can be held responsible if they do not have the ability, or power, to choose their actions. Our God has given us free will just so that we can choose whether to obey or not, although I would posit that our choices are somewhat limited by our particular makeup and circumstances – and by the choices we have made in the past.

    Maybe I need to clarify what I mean by “obedience” vs. “servility.” I think obedience always presupposes choice, while servility (as opposed to servanthood) denotes a situation where the choice to obey or disobey is absent. It is through our cumulative choices that we prove out the “stuff” we are made of. Might it be said that as we choose to obey, we move more and more toward perfect freedom – and as we choose disobedience, we move more and more into servility (to sin)?

  3. You are absolutely right, Susan, that our choices are influenced and bordered by the worlds in which we live – our circumstances whether they be financial, social, genetic, health, whatever. But we still have choices. God understands those circumstances.
    It seems that you might mean slavery when you speak of servility? Servility isn’t a word I’ve heard used much, so I’m not sure what your definition is. But to have no choice is to be a slave to someone or something it would seem.
    I’m just glad that God loves us regardless and that we are forgiven and redeemed all our wrong choices. I’ve made many wrong choices in my life and I’m sure will make more in the future. What’s important is that we confess our wrong choices (sin) and accept God’s forgiveness.
    We are speaking in generalities, which is difficult. God knows us and loves us and will lead us if we ask. We cannot do this on our own.
    I’m no philosopher or theologian – so these are simple thoughts written by one very thankful for the love of God.

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