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Good and Bad Power
Good and Bad Power

Good Power

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Good and Bad Power

Good Power
Sunday, August 8, 2021

Despite the many abuses of power documented throughout history, power itself cannot be inherently bad. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is described as dynamis, which means power (Acts 10:38; 1 Corinthians 2:5). Jesus tells his disciples before his Ascension that “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. Then you will be my witnesses . . . to the very ends of the Earth” (Acts 1:8).

Once we come into contact with the Holy Spirit, our Inner Source, we become living icons of true, humble, and confident power. We no longer need to seek “power over” others, because we have discovered the “power within” and know it is a dignity shared with all of life. [1] This is ultimately what it means to be a well-grounded person.

Paul states the divine strategy well in Romans 8:16: “God’s Spirit and our spirit bear common witness that we are indeed children of God.” The goal is a shared knowing and a common power, which is initiated and given from God’s side, as we see dramatized in the Pentecost event (Acts 2:1–13). To span the infinite gap between the divine and the human, God’s agenda is to plant a little bit of God, the Holy Spirit, right inside of us (John 14:16–17; Romans 8:9, 11; 1 Corinthians 3:16). Yet, as many have said, the Holy Spirit is still the “lost” or undiscovered person of the Trinity. If we have not made contact with our true power, the Indwelling Spirit, we will seek power in all the wrong places.

I want to repeat that power, in and of itself, is not bad. It simply needs to be redefined as something larger than domination or force. If the Holy Spirit is power, then power has to be good, loving, and empowering, not something that is the result of ambition or greed. In fact, a truly spiritual woman, a truly whole man, is a very powerful person. If we do not name the good meaning of power, we will be content with the bad, or we will avoid claiming our own powerful vocations. What is needed, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice.” [2]

King further wrote, “If we want to turn over a new leaf and really set a new humanity afoot, we must begin to turn humankind away from the long and desolate night of violence [caused by domination and power over others]. May it not be that the new humanity the world needs is the nonviolent human? . . . This not only will make us new people, but will give us a new kind of power. . . . It will be power infused with love and justice, that will change dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows, and lift us from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope.” [3]

[1] For a helpful exploration of different kinds of power, see Making Change Happen: Power from Just Associates, an organization dedicated to creating a sustainable, just world for all.

[2] Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (Harper and Row: 1967), 37.

[3] King, 66. Note: Minor edits made to incorporate gender-inclusive language.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 97–98.

Story from Our Community:
Martin Luther King Jr. answered the call of his heart to speak out against injustice. I am channeling my inner MLK, for I feel we’re being called to be part of a new Reformation. We have the power to choose to stand in the face of injustice. These injustices are exactly what Jesus came to reform. When will we choose to unite and stop thinking the power to change is outside of ourselves? When will we stop seeing ourselves as helpless and subject to the status quo? Together we can be the God/Spirit/Universe’s Light and Love. We are being invited to shine and be the beacon of Light of Living Love in the harbor. —Kelly G.

Image credit: Charles O’Rear, A Hundred Mile Ribbon of Sand Dunes (detail), 1972, photograph, California, National Archives.
Image inspiration: A desert has the potential for phenomenal beauty—but if you want to survive, you wouldn’t enter it without food and water. Likewise, power in itself is neither good nor bad, but requires our precautions and awareness to navigate and apply with great care.
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