The myth of power
Published January 23, 2020
By Lib Campbell
The Murphy house stood on the outskirts of Ayden, between Roundtree and Ballard’s Crossroads. A large family of Murphys lived in the house. For years the yard was tended and the fields were plowed and much good was yielded as the family’s presence, strength and energy powered the processes of farming and caring for the land and house they inhabited.
Then one day, the Murphys moved – the children grew up. The parents aged out. When the Murphy’s power waned, kudzu overtook the borders and soon the house. Disrepair and the wear and tear of time ultimately took the house down. Power of a family left, and so did their life on the farm.
Power at best is fleeting, something of an enigma as so many of us think it is ours to keep for all time. A look at history tells the story. Rises and falls of power pepper our history as stories of empires last only so long as power is held over the masses by those at the top.
Rome held territory for longer than most in the history of western civilization. Undisputed power pushed the boundaries of the empire, and held the boundaries in tact until the barbarians were “at the gate” and breeches invited nibbling against the power of the emperor.
One of my favorite verses in Scripture, mostly for the story it tells, is Exodus 1: 8. “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” The new ruler recognizes the power the Israelites have gained via Joseph’s place in their story. The new king is threatened and declares to “deal shrewdly with them” setting taskmasters over them to “oppress them with forced labor.” One of the greatest stories of the people of God deals with corruption of power and vying for control. Ultimately it ends poorly for the Egyptians as their work force leaves in a great exodus.
The people of the Exodus led by a stuttering Moses rise up in the power and promise of God that they will be saved against the evil of oppressive power. Plato tells us that “the measure of a person is what they do with power.” Power is either granted by the assent of the will of the people, or it is taken by brute force that instills fear and gains control like a game of King of the Hill.
The truth of power is that God holds all the power. Jesus teaches us that “our mistake is that we don’t know the Scriptures and we don’t know the power of God.” Matthew 22: 29. We as the people of God have been given power through the Holy Spirit to use for good in the world. Gandhi says, “Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by fear of punishment (witness the Israelites under the oppression of the Pharaoh) and the other by acts of Love (witness Jesus.).
If we ever think power is ours to hold forever, read a little history. Or read 1984 where George Orwell says that “power is not an end, it is a means.” Power can be a means for evil or good, depending on how we use it and to whom we give it. Machinations, grabs, abuses happen when we think real power belongs to us. O, Lord God, let us not be deluded into thinking power is ours to hold. Power belongs to You, and is only given to us to do your will in the world. Help us remember. Amen.