Idol Factory: Power

No season seems more fitting to address the idol of power than does political season. Inevitably this is a season where we think about power and particularly where we want power, even if via proxy. Tim Keller writing about the idolatry of power that leads some people to fear political outcomes they don’t like says the following:

This may be a reason why so many people now respond to U.S. political trends in such an extreme way. When either party wins an election, a certain percentage of the losing side talks openly about leaving the country. They have become agitated and fearful for the future. They have put the kind of hope in their political leaders and policies that once was reserved for God and the work of the gospel. When their political leaders are out of power, they experience a death. They believe that if their policies and people are not in power, everything will fall apart. They refuse to admit how much agreement they actually have with the other party, and instead focus on the points of disagreement. The points of contention overshadow everything else, and a poisonous environment is created. (Counterfeit Gods, 99).

When power is our god the loss of it can cause us to act crazy, hurt others, and lose hope for the future.

Power isn’t just the thing guys in “power suits” worry about. It’s what all of us want and crave at various seasons. Fundamentally, the desire for control is a pursuit of power. Whether we are wanting to control others, control our circumstances, or just be the one calling the shots at work, we are seeking power. At the heart of this idolatry is a desire to be “god.” In fact one might suggest this was the sin that Adam and Eve committed in the Garden. When told not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil they decided they wanted to “be like God” and they wanted to call the shots. So they attempted to seize control, they became power-worshipers.

The Worship of Power can lead to terrible things. For some it can lead to ruthless exercise of power and authority over others, it can lead to national campaigns to root out anyone who would threaten your power. So we could look to Emperor Nero’s own concern to maintain power which led him to execute or banish anyone thought to be opposing him, even his own mother. But sometimes the worship of power is far less threatening to others, and more personally damaging.

Our desire to control our circumstances usually leaves us in despair, because after all, we can’t control our circumstances. Attempts to be God are futile, and will always end in our misery. The Fall is evidence of this fact. We make matters far worse when we try to play God. And ultimately that’s what the pursuit of power is about. It is, once again, rooted in self-worship. We want to be the person in charge of our world. But our hands are big enough to manage all those matters, and we usually just end up making matters worse. Adam and Eve seized control of their destinies and plunged the whole world in to sin. Our desire to be God can plunge us into destruction too. But there is an alternative.

The apostle Peter says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,  7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7). When we humble ourselves before God he can lift us up. When we fear the outcome we can cast our anxieties on God because he cares for us. And he has far more power than we could ever muster. The truth is that our pursuit of power is often a quest to be God, because in our hearts (though we might not admit it) we simply don’t think the current model of divine being is doing a sufficient job. The pursuit of power can make us doing crazy things.

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