Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Abuse of Power

The British journalist, Macolm Muggeridge notes in the foreword to his book The Third Testament that the Russian novelist Dostoevsky held that Russia had a destiny “to unite mankind in a brotherhood based in Christian love as the antidote to power rather than on power as the antidote to the inequality, the injustice, the oppression under which the poor everywhere labored.” His contemporary, Tolstoy, also distrusted power. Muggeridge states that Tolstoy was convinced “that human beings can never be made better, individually or collectively, by the exercise of power.” The British historian Lord Acton stated that “power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” All three of these individuals held a deep distrust of power and what it can do to people. We saw the prophetic nature of their words come true in Communist Russia during the past century. The use of power only increased the inequality, the injustice and the oppression of the Russian people.

Yet today many people still look to power as something to grasp. Both political parties seek to become the party in power in our country. Many religious leaders view for power in their denominations. A large number of corporate executives seek to control their corporations through the exercise of power. Unfortunately gaining and maintaining power can become an end in itself. An obsession with power can easily become a corrupting influence. We need only look at the nasty, negative campaigns often run by both Democrats and Republicans to see that this is true. When power becomes an obsession everyone loses. Those who are under the heel of power find that they are being taken advantage of. Those who wield the power may one day discover that they have lost their own soul.

Dostoevsky is right that Christian love is the antidote to power. He correctly saw that love is the key to solving the problems of injustice and inequality and oppression. It is very difficult to treat another human being unjustly, or as an inferior, or to oppress them when we truly love them. The apostle Paul note that all of our abilities and gifts and charity amount to nothing without love (I Corinthians 13). Jesus himself says that unity can only come about through love.

So why do we continue to seek power? I think is comes from a desire to control – a desire to control our destiny. We lose track of, or want to ignore, the fact that God is the one who is in control. We forget that we are to be his agents, showing His love to a world that is being torn apart with hate and dissension. We lose sight of the fact that to become truly powerful we must become weak. It is only through our weakness that God is able to work in our world.

Mother Theresa, ironically from a Communist country, Albania, was one of the weakest, yet most powerful individuals of the past century. World leaders sought her favor and advice. She influenced the entire world through her love of the poor and downtrodden. There was no place that she would not go. There was no one that she would not serve. She understood better than anyone else that Christian love was the antidote to power and the best solution to the problems of this world. She brought the love of Christ to every person who crossed her path.

In our day to day loves we face the same tension that Dostoevsky spoke about. Do we seek to wield power or do we seek to wield God’s love? We must ask ourselves the question: “Will I seek power and reflect the ruthless tyrannical system exhibited by Russia for most of the 20th century or will I, in weakness and humility, reflect the love of God to those in need.” Time will tell.

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