Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Power Play and the Gospel

The big older stories of who we are and what we're here for have been challenged and deconstructed. This is, in a sense, turning modernism's rhetoric on itself. Modernism, (the movement which began with the eighteenth-century Enlightenment) made its way, though writers like Voltaire, by attacking the big, over-arching story told by the church. postmodernity has now done the same to all the great stories by which human beings order their lives (‘metanarratives’), not least the stories of 'progress' and ‘enlightenment’ which modernism itself made its stock-in-trade. The Bible, rather obviously, offers not only some fairly substantial individual stories about God, the world and humankind, but in its canonical form, from Genesis to Revelation, tells a single overarching story which appears to be precisely the kind of thing people today have learned to resist. Like all metanarratives, it is instantly suspected of being told in order to advance someone’s interest. It is, people suspect, some kind of power play.[1]

This snippet from Tom Wright’s new book, Scripture and the Authority of God, is a fantastic spring board for me to share my thoughts on this pivotal topic. I must confess that postmodernity is absolutely correct that the metanarrative of scripture [the all encompassing story from Genesis to Revelation] is a power-play! The German philosopher Nietzsche was correct to suggest that life and relationships are a will-to-power. But Nietzsche’s conception of power was obscured by several factors we need not explore here.

It is my contention that both Nietzsche and postmodernity are fundamentally wrong in their unwarranted assumption that all power-play’s are intrinsically bad. Human experience had taught Nietzsche a certain perspective on ‘power’ and Nietzsche had presumed that this perspective of power was universal. However, that presumption is invalid even in the world of human experience.

The beauty of scripture, and the truth about God that it unveils, is that it tells the story of power that is given - not taken. The creation account is one in which the all powerful Creator powerfully displays his majesty by ordering the cosmos, giving life to it’s beauty and then creates those who are given power and authority to accept and enjoy this lovely creation. God gives his creatures, the pinnacle of creation, the power! The power to know who we are, the power to unlock our potential, the power to know and to love in authentic relationships, with God, self, others and creation. God comes to Adam [and Eve!] and invites him into a partnership with God whereby Adam is given governing power over creation.

However, we have abused this power and authority and ruined our relationship with God, ourselves, others and creation. Now, we are further destroying ourselves [exchanging the truth about God {and by implication then, everything else} for a lie!] by forsaking, forgetting, and forgoing this empowering story. Postmodernity is in danger of throwing the baby out with the bath-water, in 'incredulity to metanarratives’ [2]. We must discover through careful investigation the liberating story of the gospel that empowers us, not destroys us!

"This is Love", said John the apostle, “that we lay down are lives for one another - as Jesus the King laid down his life for us”(1 John 3:16). In this verse, and in the life, teachings death & resurrection of Jesus, the gospel’s concept of power is seen in laying down one’s life to empower others to make decisions and actions that are most beneficial for others! God does not regularly impose his will upon others, but rather wills-to-empower us, to love HIM and serve HIM because that is both what we are created for and what will benefit us most as God’s creatures. Piper has noted that “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in HIM” [3]. And the liberating fact is that nothing satisfies like an infinite, omni-loving, fantastic and authentic GOD. In other words, nothing will fill the gaping hole within our souls, except Jesus.

I notice that in several miracles stories the gospels present, Jesus asks “what do you want from me?” For example, Mark 10:51 Jesus asks: "What do you want me to do for you?" I'm sorry and don't want to sound obtuse, but that has got to be the biggest DUH question around. What is Bartimaeus really going to ask for, other than his recovery of sight? Some money? Some sympathy? Maybe a new matt to sit on? Maybe a place with the Messiah? The question is so obvious that we miss its impact: Jesus is empowering Bartimaeus by giving him the choice. Jesus doesn't just do it, he waits for honest communication [relationship] and then only acts accordingly. This is a prime example of Jesus' attitude and actions with women, and others on the margins of society. Jesus empowers the human being because he understands their identity [creatures of the Most High YHWH] and their purpose [They are to Love YHWH and people holistically].

We should embrace a suspicion of a postmodernity that says we cannot know We may not be able to know through the means which has been provided by pre-modern and modern means, but there is an epistemology of love which has proved fruitful and faithful in my life, and the lives of those around me this epistemology invites the world to “taste and see that the LORD is good”[Ps 34:8] This epistemology is found in Schweitzer’s call to discover the Unknown, through faithful obedience and fellowship with Jesus, his people, and his world.

Because, this is truly and helpfully empowering in every sense of the word. Through critical interaction and relationship with what is, who is and where we find ourselves, the Unknown is discovered and unveiled and found in the face of Jesus of Nazareth.

[1] N. T. Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God, pg. 4 [2] Lyortard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, pg. xxiv [3] Piper, The Supremacy of God in Missions, pg. 27

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