Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What Is Power?

During one of our Sunday lessons this week, the teacher (a good friend of mine, who embarrasses me by saying I’m one of the smartest people she knows, but who is also very smart in various less sedentary ways) put this word equation on the board:
Belief + Action = Faith, and Faith = Power
This was a religious lesson, about not feeling ashamed that your belief is not yet knowledge; if it is a strong enough belief that you then act on it, trusting it to be true, then that is faith. And it is by faith that the world was created and all miracles happen.
But the Faith = Power part intrigued me. I have written here before about the word power; specifically about the difference between leaders and power mongers. Leaders serve, while power mongers act in ways to increase/protect their power over others. So I wondered if this equation could be applied also to power in a more general sense, or whether there is an actual difference.
Phenomenal Cosmic Power; Itty-bitty Living Space
What is power? In a lot of youth literature, people have special powers, maybe magical or super powers, or at least special talents and abilities beyond normal humans. And then there’s the dilemma that, “with great power comes great responsibility,” (according to Spiderman’s Uncle Ben). I don’t think I want to deal with that kind of issue today. I want to deal with something closer to real world power. I went to the handy dictionary. There are a lot of layers in defining power. So I think I’ll pick and choose how I mean it here.

Power is the ability to act, produce, accomplish, do. It can also be the ability to influence the behavior of others, which could be either very good or very bad. In the world of politics—which most of us would prefer to avoid but can’t if we care about our own freedom to act, produce, accomplish, and do—power might also mean the authority to act, or to control the actions of others. Such power is like fire, important for use in certain limited circumstances, but dangerous in the wrong hands or in the wrong situations.
I’ve previously asserted that seeking power is evil, but I think I need to clarify the definition, because having the power to do good, and wanting that ability, is not a bad thing. The power to act in a positive way is good, but power to act in a negative way is, well, bad.
So how do we make sure that we’re seeking power for good? And how do we prevent others from gaining power for evil?
Power needs a source. So if we’re going to a good source—THE Good Source—then we can be pretty certain our power will be for good. If you have something Good to do, and you ask God for the power to do it, when that power is granted, you know you didn’t supply it yourself; you put in the work, but you got the ideas, the energy, the opportunities—the power—from the source for good. There’s a sense of humility in the heart. If you’re missing the sense of humility and thankfulness, and in its place find a sense of superiority or entitlement, you’re probably seeking the wrong kind of power.
I don’t think there’s any problem with wanting power from God to do His will. That is very different from power mongering—loving power for self. But power to do God’s will is always about serving His children, even when leading and influencing them. The evil kind of power is about controlling, rather than serving. Originally, I said it this way:
A power monger is the polar opposite of a leader. He/she uses coercion as a basic tool. A power monger uses deception to gain power, not trusting honest persuasion to get people to give it to him/her. A power monger doesn’t recognize God-given rights, but only the privileges he/she decides to grant, usually to those most likely to return political favors (money, votes, support). A power monger can coerce at any level from family to international, but those with an appetite for power generally seek it over a larger and larger circle of minions.
A power monger sees him/herself as elite and superior over the other lower beings, as opposed to seeing him/herself among fellow citizens as a leader would do. A power monger doesn’t avoid chaos, but rather uses it (sometimes even creates it purposefully) as an opportunity to cause more people to succumb to the desire for protection, which he/she offers. A power monger is selfish, doing good for others only if it will increase his/her personal power.
I think the Spherical Model helps explain the difference. Those who choose to dwell only in the southern hemisphere, in either statist or chaotic tyranny, think there are only two choices: control others, or be controlled by others. They seem perversely unaware of the entire northern hemisphere where people work and live freely among one another—using limited government to help with the limited times people fail to consider one another’s rights and self-govern. It’s the hemisphere where freedom, prosperity, and civilization thrive. It’s not a dog-eat-dog world there; it’s a mutually respectful world. Unlike the power mongers in the tyranny hemisphere, leaders in the freedom hemisphere must be servant leaders, who lead by persuasion, information, and example.
Why don’t we simply choose that? Some of us do. But we live in a world where we do not have a critical mass of people choosing the better way.
I believe God used the faith of righteous people to establish this country in the first place. God has power to do anything. I believe He can bring us back to the freedom zone; I do not know if that is His plan, or if some sort of disastrous version of natural consequences is more likely.
But this will continue to be true:
Faith in God Power to Do Good
We can act on our desires to do good in our homes and communities and country, and He will give us power to accomplish enough good that we can still enjoy many of the blessings of that northern hemisphere that so many others are too blind to see. If we act on faith, miracles will still happen.

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