Must Power Always Corrupt?
By Mark Rodgers“Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”-- Lord ActonI have been struck recently by the power of culture in our lives, and the difficulty of handling power when we have it. Dueling front page stories of former Virginia Governor McDonnell and pop phenom Justin Bieber, both people of professed faith, remind us of the siren call of power, whether in the form of popularity or politics.Also in the news has been the coercive power of the State, which at times we celebrate (the restraint of evil), at times we resist (restrictions on religious freedom) and at times we just aren’t sure (the NSA). Thomas Jefferson said, “If once [the people] become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress, and Assemblies, judges and governors shall all become wolves. It seems to be the law of our general nature, in spite of individual exceptions; and experience declares that man is the only animal which devours his own kind..."It is this temptation of power, whether as profit or manipulation of people, that is reflected in Wolf of Wall Street. “This film may be misunderstood by some,” Leonardo DiCaprio said. “I hope people understand we’re not condoning this behavior, that we’re indicting it. The book was a cautionary tale and if you sit through the end of the film, you’ll realize what we’re saying about these people and this world, because it’s an intoxicating one ... There were these two profound speeches at the heart of the film, the second of which gets you to understand how intoxicated Jordan was by the power of what he was doing.” There but by the grace of God go I.Power. What is it? What is it for? How do we use it for the flourishing of society? What does it do to us when we have it? And how do we manage it?In his recent book Playing God, Andy Crouch explores the paradox of power, and the tension that the Church has with it. Aware that it can corrupt, we are right to be cautious, but also acknowledging that power was given to mankind in the Garden in the form of stewardship we know that we are called to use it wisely.Since all roads lead back to the Shire, I have to think of Tolkein’s exploration of the temptation of power in the form of the Ring which literally distorted a hobbit into Gollum. The important lesson to take away from Middle Earth is not that power is inherently evil, but as Sam said, that “there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.” Power can be used for the common good.The front page of the Wall Street Journal had another image of power recently. One that I can’t get out of my mind. The image of a few orthodox priests, standing between opposing forces in the Ukraine. Power in prayer. Power in sacrifice. Power in peace.It takes me back to the Man of Peace who, on a mountaintop, did not reject power, but gave us a sermon that turned the world’s power structures upside down. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.