Church Word Watch
God's Power and Ours - Part Two
In the first part of God's Power and Ours, we talked about the value of focusing on the power of God in our lives. But there are separate and opposite temptations for different types of people in too much emphasis on the worship of a powerful God.
The first temptation is to ‘puff up’ because we are followers of a great God. We begin to see ‘our’ powerful God as an extension of ourselves in some way and we start to assert ourselves in a kind of holy aggression. We start to believe that there is a special connection between this God of Power and Might and Miracle and us. Either individually or as a ‘special group’, we start to put our lives ‘centre-stage’ in the world. We expect too much of ourselves.
In this heightened state of expectation, before we know where we are, we begin to believe that what we want, God wants. We give in to the wishful thinking that because we are God’s people and God is ‘our’ God, our actions are in some way God’s actions. We fall prey to the temptation to take too much power for ourselves – either as individuals or as a ‘special group’. In this state of mind, it is easy to deny freedom of choice to other people in our churches, in our families and, of course, in the wider world.
For other people, there can be a different temptation in favouring these powerful pictures of God’s greatness, transcendence and power – the temptation not to puff but to shrink. Too much focus on God’s power sometimes causes us to shrink rather than enjoy our own power. It causes us to forget that this powerful God has shared God’s power with us – with you and me. God created men and women to be curators of the world God made. God has blessed us with gifts and skills. We can do things!
Thinking too much about the power of God in our lives may sometimes encourage us to shrink our way of thinking about our own human agency, our God-given power in the world. It leads to the sort of thinking and talking which says, ‘There is violence and injustice in society at home and abroad – God is powerful. God will sort it out. There is need and trouble in the family or in the church – pray about it, God will take care of it.’ In a world where ‘the wrong seems oft so strong’, it is easy to shrink into passive fatalists unwilling to take the risks of a caring response to suffering and evil to which Christian discipleship calls us.
My experience is that these different temptations match different personality types – some of us are natural ‘puffers’ in the face of difficult situations. Others of us are natural ‘shrinkers’. Perhaps all of us can adopt different responses when it suits us. Wisdom teaches us to learn to strike the balance.
One way of striking the balance is to follow the example of the Polish Rabbi Simchan Bunem who carried two slips of paper in different pockets to remind him of his choices. One reminded him that the world was created for his sake. The other reminded him that he was but dust and ashes.
The apostle Paul reminds Christians to have ‘a sane estimate of your own capabilities by the light of the faith that God has given to you all’. (Romans 12:3 Phillips translation).