Power is the sneakiest idol in the pantheon of false gods. Power worshipers are often thought to be like the unmerciful despot, the Little League president who pulls strings to get his awkward kid on the All-Star team, the Mafia Don, or the corrupt billionaire CEO.
But power worship is often much more subtle than this, and is potentially the deepest rooted idol everyone faces - from prisoners to popes. Nietzsche termed the innate desire to become master of our surroundings the “will to power,” and considered it to be the primary driving force in humans, meaning that all other desires revolve around the central desire to be in control.
Power is simply the ability to influence our environment. It has many names (like control, dominance, and authority) and comes in a plethora of forms (like changing a song on an iPod, driving a car, or vetoing a national law).
Power, in itself, is good, necessary, and ever-present. Even anarchy is not the absence of power but the scattering of power. Anarchy, however, is not God’s intention - he values order, which is why we have physical constants like gravity (G) and McGriddle tastiness (McG). Power is given to people by God to administer his rule and justice.
God gives mankind dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:28).
God installs governments to establish civil order (Rom. 13:1-2).
God gives authority to elders in the church (1 Peter 5:1-3).
God instructs us to be govern ourselves by being self-controlled (Gal. 5:23).
But it has been said that "absolute power corrupts absolutely." Power is enticing because it provides a sense of freedom, and it exploits our sinful desire to be free from authority. In fact, the essence of sin is a power struggle - we reject God's authority for our own. The power worshiper in effect says, "It is better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven." (John Milton, Paradise Lost).
As a god, power promises to free us from oppression, but oppresses us even more because we have no idea how out of control we really are. Power deceives us into thinking that we are gods of our own lives. It makes us think we are moral free agents. It makes us think that we write our own futures. It makes us think we don't need any help. But our ability to control our environment is an illusion. Even our plans are under divine direction (Prov. 16:9). We are not as free as we think we are.
So, paradoxically, the power idol promises freedom but is instead a bacteria culture for fear and anxiety. I undoubtedly struggle with this idol, and there is one litmus test for me to gauge how bad it is - going under water. Why? It's not because I'm afraid of water, it's because control over my surroundings is extremely limited under water. If my desire for control is out of control, then I have a hard time volunteering to be powerless, even with something as simple as swimming. I learn how much I idolize power when I am not in control.
Do you worship the idol of power? Ask yourself these questions:
1.) Do I feel safe only when I'm in charge?
2.) Do I feel free only when I have authority?
3.) Do I desire to isolate myself to have my way?
4.) Do I hide the "real me" around others?
5.) Do I deceive or manipulate others?
6.) Do the ends justify the means in my life?
7.) Do I desire to lead, even if I'm not supposed to?
8.) Do I verbally cut others down?
9.) Am I anxious or worried?
10.) Do I constantly reject authority? Am I unable to submit to others?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be bowing down before the power idol. I would even argue that those who constantly rebel against authority have the deepest power idol because they don’t want someone else in control of them. I fight this urge constantly:
"Hey Brandon, you seem to have a thing for McGriddles."
"Yes, I do."
"Then here, take this free one."
"BECAUSE YOU TOLD ME TO!!!!"
So, oddly enough, a prisoner could be worshiping power while the President of the United States isn't. It's not position that matters, it's the heart.
Those with power can wield it in a way that glorifies God and are a means through which God's justice is brought to the earth. But every authority figure - from the biggest kid on the playground to the harshest dictator - is under God's authority (Romans 13:2). To our creator, the most powerful dictator is like a toddler dominating his Legos.
And this is why Jesus’ life on earth blows my mind.
Phil 2:5-11 shows that while Jesus possessed all the power of God he emptied himself of the voluntary usage of his powers. He has the power to turn E minor into Saturn, but became an obscure peasant in an obscure region at an obscure time. His followers lamented that he wasn't a powerful king - but they didn’t realize how powerless kings are in comparison to him.
He has such power that he physically keeps everything from disintegrating (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3), yet he subjected himself to humiliation and torture on a wooden stake. For those of us who can barely empty ourselves of authority over something as simple as the TV remote, Jesus' voluntary unemployment of his divine authority for our benefit provides a stark contrast.
And Jesus says that it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are empowered to be God's agents (Acts 1:8). So for us, repentance is a profound way in which we discard the idol of power, offering a submissive plea for God's mercy. Repentance enables us to be a child in daddy’s arms, knowing that he's in charge.
Likewise, prayer is asking before acting, speaking to God before speaking to others, and seeking God's will before seeking our own. Sometimes losing all control is the only way to experience true power. Prayer teaches this to us, whether we're a prisoner or a pope.
So, what if we ceased to pretend that we control our lives? How much freedom would we actually experience?
To be honest, I'm still trying to find the answer to that. But my journey is in good hands.