Church Word Watch
God's Power and Ours - Part One
We Christians often choose to begin our public worship with the Biblical stories and pictures of a powerful, kingly God uppermost in our minds. ‘Praise my soul the King of Heaven,’ Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation’. And with more contemporary praise songs, we sing of a God who is, ‘Above all powers, above all kingdoms, above all thrones’ and encourage each other to ‘Bow before the Ancient of Days’ whose kingdom reigns ‘over all the earth’.
We teach that our God is so great and powerful that God is ‘omnipotent’. Our infinite, God, our unlimited God can do anything and everything. Our God reigns, our God works miracles, our God has muscle, our God changes things.
These images of God’s power are, of course, biblical. In Isaiah, we hear of a God who is ‘high and lifted up’, whose train filled the Temple. From Genesis to Revelation there are about 50 references to God as ‘the Most High’ – most of them in the Old Testament. Just once, Jesus describes God as the ‘Most High’. Luke 6.35
So what is the value of these ‘power stories’? Clearly, the idea of a powerful God is particularly important at times in our lives when we feel powerless. Nearly half of the Biblical references to God as the ‘most high’ come in the Psalms when the psalmist calls on God in the face of threats of one kind or another or praises God for relief and protection from threat. In the contemporary world, when threatening experiences remind us of our powerlessness or of the powerlessness of others – stricken by violence, starvation, homelessness or distress of any kind, the idea of a Power bigger than ourselves, a loving Power, a caring Power is at the heart of our faith.
And these ‘power stories’ are important reminders of God’s ‘otherness’, God’s mystery, the differences between God and us – and between God’s power and our power. God is not an extension of us. We are dependent. God has ‘the whole world in His hands’, we have just a very small part.
If we read them well, these stories will remind us of our place in the universe. These images teach us to cultivate an awareness that we are not in control. We are finite. At a time when technology has given us so much potency, so much effectiveness in our world – so much power over our survival, over our health, over our ability to communicate, it is sometimes easy to forget that our power is seriously restricted, our ability to carry out our will is limited.
We cannot do everything – not even every good thing that we would like to do. We are dependent. We cannot change the weather. We cannot make it rain or stop raining. We cannot make the sun shine. We rely on God for life, for health and strength, for wisdom and courage. We are fragile. We are not mighty or powerful. We are not God!
And so, in the words of the Lord’s prayer we can pray for the exercise of God’s royal power – ‘Thy kingdom come.’ And yet acknowledge the limitations of our own power, ‘Thy will be done.’