Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth, Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection February 10, 2019
"Be Strong"- by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he declares: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.” (6:10) The Greek word used implies something more than “be strong.” It implies to “receive strength” - to “be strengthened.” As the Contemporary English Version of this passage states: “…let the mighty strength of the Lord make you strong.”
Our strength does not come from any power we may possess personally. Our strength comes from the power of God. But how are we to understand power? Is the most powerful person the one who can beat up everyone else? Is the most powerful person the one with the most influence in society? Is the most powerful person the one with the most money and resources? Is the most powerful person the one with the most education? Is the most powerful person the one with the most wisdom? How do we judge power?
One thing is certain. How we understand power as Christians is very different than how the world judges power. We are able to see power in weakness. As the Lord teaches Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for (my) power is made perfect in weakness.”
This is certainly a different approach to the notion of power than we find in our wounded world. Power in weakness! Who would have thought such was possible?
And yet we need to be careful. Yes, when we admit our weakness, God is able to fill us up with power. But we are also called to be instruments of God’s power, God’s peace, God’s love. I wrote about this in last week’s Advance.
So how do we, as followers of Christ Jesus, use God’s power wisely and prudently? One thing we know in following Jesus is that power is to be used in service of others. We understand that true power is always shared. False power is hoarded. When power is not shared, people become oppressed by false leaders who do everything they can to cling to power.
We probably all have heard this famous saying from Lord Acton: “Power (tends to) corrupt(s) and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It might help us to know that Lord Acton’s dictum was written in response to the Vatican’s declaration of papal infallibility in 1870.
As disciples, we are not powerless. We cannot be powerless since God’s power has been poured over us in our life in Christ Jesus. But how do we allow God’s power to flow through us without falling prey to corruption? How can we use the power given to us by God in a way that is in keeping with our call to compassion?
This call to compassion is made clear in Luke 6: 36 where Jesus asserts: “You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.” (New Living Translation) So how might we exercise power in our world without succumbing to its corrupting influence? How do we use God’s power in our families and churches in positive ways rather than negative ways?
As Christians, we see Christ Jesus as both the power of God and the wisdom of God (see 1st Corinthians 1:24. Paul goes on to claim: “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak to shame the strong.” (1st Corinthians 1:26–27)
In other words, when we accept our inherent weakness, we are then capable of being strengthened by God. The acceptance of our weakness allows a space to grow within us where God enters and fills us with divine power.
One difficulty is that there are many who refuse to accept their inherent weakness. Admitting weakness seems to many to be a proclamation of capitulation. But when we admit that we are not very powerful, then we can finally let go of the illusion that we should be in charge – in control – in power.
As believers, we know that God is in charge. Yet if God is completely in charge, then why is the world in the state it is? This is the perennial problem of evil and suffering. There have been many attempts to solve this conundrum. I’ve been actively trying to solve this dilemma for over forty years.
I remember the 1981 bestseller, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, written by Rabbi Harold Kushner after the death of his 14-year-old son to a rare genetic disease. But Kushner’s conclusion leaves much to be desired. “Kushner concludes that God is not all-powerful…if God had the radical power to stop random suffering he would stop it and, since he does not stop it, we can conclude that God is not all-powerful.” (From Ronald Rolheiser’s The Shattered Lantern)
What are we to make of this conclusion? I, for one, reject this conclusion, even though it arises from Kushner’s own suffering and from his understanding of the Book of Job. God is always a mystery – which means our finite human minds can never fully fathom the divine infinity we call God. God is wildly beyond any human comprehension.
Yet we believe, as Christians, that God will finally be vindicated in the face of all the suffering endured by God’s creatures throughout time. We know in faith that all injustice will be eventually corrected when God finally reveals God’s divine fullness.
God is pure mystery, which is why most theological statements regarding God try to explain what God is doing rather than who God is. In other words, I can preach and teach about what God might be doing, how God might be acting among us and within us, but I cannot preach or teach with any confidence about the divine essence, about who God IS. Language invariably breaks down whenever we attempt to define or to describe God.
We can seek God but we can never catch or grasp God. The closest we’ve ever come to seeing the face of God is seeing the face of Jesus Christ. This is our bedrock belief as Christians, the belief upon which all other beliefs are grounded.