I am a power geek. That’s power of the electrical variety. And it’s worse than that. I am a Reactive Power geek. If you have no idea what that means, don’t worry. You don’t need to worry about reactive power. You care about active power, about Watts and kiloWatt-hours. That’s the stuff that makes your lights work and keeps your phone charged. I care about reactive power. It’s measured in VAr, kVAr etc. That’s the bit that pushes and pulls the active power to the right place at the right time. Simple. And no matter what your Physics Teacher told you, it’s not that complicated.
Power is dangerous. Power kills (well actually it’s the current that kills you, but that’s perhaps for another time). Power brings life to babies’ incubators, power brings warmth to cookers and kettles, power brings light to rooms, power enables relationships through the internet. It’s all a matter of perspective. You seldom find power station or transmission or distribution engineers make jokes about “Elf and Safety”. Power has to be treated with respect, because power respects no-one.
I’ve twisted the topic of Nouwen’s Day 18 Advent reading. He wants me to see power as something bad, something to be avoided, a temptation, and comes up with some excellent examples to reinforce his point – the crusades, slavery, inquisitions (I’d add wars, and arguably poverty as other examples) . Power – that great invitation to say “I am right, you are wrong, and I’ll show you just how wrong you are”. But power brought us free access healthcare, it brought us the industrial revolution, it brought us transport and communications networks. Every time humans band together to do something for the “social good”, someone powerful decides what that social good is, and how it is to be achieved. Power, like money, is morally neutral. How it is distributed and used is the point at which it is misused and corrupted.
Philippians 2:4-8 describes how Jesus “emptied himself”, poured himself out for us. Nouwen infers that Jesus gave up his power to become human. I think I would dispute that – Jesus worked miracles. Jesus was a man with power. (I don’t think I’ve uttered anything too heretical there). To me, the remarkable thing about Jesus was the way he used power, and I remember particularly the Garden of Gethsemane. There was the final choice, the operation of free will, the point at which Jesus acknowledged his power was for God’s glory, not for the glory of a man. It is in Gethsemane that Jesus reveals himself to me as fully human and fully divine.
Nouwen talks about the temptation to seize and abuse power – but where are the victims? He seems too concerned today about the corruption of the one exercising power, and not concerned enough about its effects on others. Maybe that is for another day.
But Nouwen and I agree on one thing – all power, of whatever kind, comes ultimately from God, whether it is power by force of personality or power to light up bulbs. God is the source of all, and power should be used to the praise and glory of God.