The paradoxical power of powerlessness (part 2)

If someone asked you to describe what you mean by “God,” what would you say?

I suspect that many of us (particularly in the West) would describe some form of Omnipotent Being — God is the one who has the power to do anything, including the miracle of creation itself. That’s not as obvious an idea as it might sound at first. As comedian George Carlin once asked, “Can God make a rock so big that he can’t lift it?” But surely some notion of omnipotence will be part of how we understand what it means for God to be God.

Moreover, Christians specifically believe that the man Jesus revealed the character of God. Divine omnipotence is easy to see when Jesus is healing the blind and lame, walking on water, stilling the wind and waves, and raising people from the dead.

But letting himself be arrested and then grilled before a kangaroo court that had already decided the verdict? Beaten by brutal and clueless soldiers? Mocked by the arrogant and spiritually blind?

Dying on a cross?

How does that any of that square with the idea of a powerful and omnipotent God? Was the suffering and death of Jesus just an unfortunate but necessary one-time exception to the rule? Was it something the Father had to do in order to solve the puzzle of sin, a radical solution to a radical problem?

The more we oppose the omnipotence of the Father to the meekness of the Son, the more we risk dividing the Godhead. We know that Jesus wasn’t the passive victim of either the Judean or Roman powers-that-be. The gospels, particularly John’s gospel, make that abundantly clear.

But neither was the Son victimized by the Father.

The alternative is to recognize that the meekness and humility of Jesus also reveal the character of God. This is a God who loves the powerless, a God who takes on our fallible flesh and walks among us, enduring our evil to bring about good. If our understanding of God’s power cannot embrace the meekness of the cross, then it’s our understanding of power that needs to be revised.

***

I am not, of course, counseling Christians to be doormats. Jesus himself was anything but, which is why the disciples were at first unable to take in all that Jesus said about his own death, and shocked when it happened. But we are heirs to the kingdom of God, a kingdom in which worldly power and status count for nothing and the king blesses those who are poor and hungry, weeping and reviled.

We live in a world that constantly encourages us to extend our influence and build our power base, to assert ourselves and get things done. There is, of course, a place for that. But if it’s not inherently godly to be a doormat, neither is it necessarily godly to take charge, to use our power to make things happen — even supposedly good things.

That’s especially hard to accept if we have a need to be in control, if we’re anxious about outcomes and feel compelled to fix things. We may have to step back and recognize what we’re loath to admit: we really don’t have as much power as we like to think we do. And certainly not as much power as God.

Sometimes, the most powerful thing we can do is to stop striving, let go, and trust in the sovereignty of God. I wish I could tell you exactly when that needs to be done. I can’t.

But at the very least, we can start with this: meekness has its place in a person of godly character.

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