“Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” ~ John Dalberg-Acton
“The day the power of love overrules the love of power the world will know peace.” ~ Ghandi
“Someone that you have deprived of everything is no longer in your power. He is once again entirely free.” ~ Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
There is no “in between” with power — either we amass it or we give it away. Most leaders amass it, a small minority diffuse it. Truly great leaders consistently and persistently give it away by empowering others.
Today this is abundantly clear in the Middle East, and specifically among Israelis and Palestinians. The love of power and control has once again led to death on a horrific scale.
I speak as a Jew who has grown up with the worldview that “we are the persecuted ones,” that Jews have been and continue to be the victims of Arab peoples who want to annihilate us. Our self-perception is that we are the powerless ones, that against all odds we have survived in a sea of enemies.
This perception is simply a fallacy in the 21st Century. Jews around the world are some of the most powerful people to have ever lived. We are disproportionately represented in politics, business, and the entertainment industry — all symbols and institutions of power.
Israel is, by far, the most powerful military in the Middle East, thanks primarily to aid from the United States ($31 billion in 2014, as compared to $1.5 billion given to Egypt).
In a sense, Israel has become the new Goliath in the fight against Palestinians.
This reality of power and the Jewish worldview that “we are the underdog and always the persecuted” is so en-grained that it is like the air we breathe. We just do it, without any thought or reflection.
Lest we think this is a “one-way street,” we must be honest and forthright that there are power brokers in the Arab world that wield power with great destruction. Organizations such as Hamas, Hezbullah, and now ISIS, along with a host of splinter groups, hold onto power in order to control their own people, as well as to harm Jews, Americans, and other Westerners.
There is plenty of blame to go around among Jews and Arabs — and often it is religious people who are the greatest perpetrators. Yes — Jews, Muslims, and Christians. None of us are immune to the snare of power and its distortions.
Jesus’ Upside Kingdom
The only way I know to think well about power is to look at the person of Jesus Christ. It does not matter if you are a Jew, a Muslim, or a Christian. Most people from the three monotheistic faith traditions have respect for the person of Jesus. And quite honestly, there are not many other people to study who handle power well!
Jesus was tempted with power just as we are. Satan tempted him in Matthew 4, when Jesus was led out to the wilderness for 40 days. The third and final temptation was to rule the kingdoms of the world with…powerful.
“The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” (Matthew 4:8-10)
Why did Jesus turn down Satan’s offer? And why should we? For a number of reasons.
- This kind of power is fleeting. It will not last. There will always be another conqueror, another army, another tyrant. The power of politics and military strength always falls short of lasting peace.
- Power that is held onto always corrupts. The more powerful the state of Israel becomes the less likely that there will be a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. And this begs the question: Does Israel even want peace with the Palestinians? Do they want to share the land with Arab peoples? In the same way, as the influence of groups such as Hamas are legitimized it becomes more and more difficult for there to be a pathway to peace among Palestinians.
- The only One who can be trusted with power is God. Clearly, God puts governments in place (see Romans 13) and gives His creation incredible ability and freedom to rule and reign over the earth. Unfortunately, our track record with this freedom is horrendous to say the least. And so it becomes a question of how followers of Jesus invite God into the locales of power in our worlds (businesses, family, ministry realms, etc.) so that He rules them. This is the coming Kingdom of God invading our space here and now.
- The only way to EMpower others is to transfer power that I might have. Satan’s example is a “power grab,” consuming and possessing power. Jesus’ example is emptying himself of all power (Philippians 2) so that his people will be EMpowered.
Gaining Perspective: Encounter the Powerless
In many countries, the elderly are among the most powerless. In two-thirds world nations they often have no pension or social benefits.
Health care services are minimal or non-existent.
Often times their family members (children) have moved away to find work.
Consequently, when I walked into the very modest home of a granny in Moldova I was overwhelmed by her powerlessness. She is about 70 years old, her husband passed away almost a decade ago. She now lives on a government pension of about $60 per month.
In the winter time it costs $80 per month just to heat one room of her dilapidated house!
Why is this encounter so important? Because leaders must have more and better and growing perspective, on many issues. One of those issues is power. The granny who is powerless challenges those of us with power to re-adjust our lenses on reality.
Those of us with great power must exercise it with the “least and the last” in mind. Our stewardship as leaders is to handle power in the ways of Jesus, for the good of others.