Just as there is more to world making than just making stuff, however, there is more to powerlessness than being unable to bring about a tangible change in the world. The deeper and more debilitating form of powerlessness is to be cut off from making meaning. There are able-bodied people all over the world whose physical capacity to make something is undiminished (much less diminished, in fact, than my own body's after decades working at a screen), but who are denied any opportunity to make their own sense of the world. Perhaps they were denied this by being cut off from education, the process by which human beings gain the cultural fluency to participate in culture's ultimate task of meaning making. Perhaps they are denied by deeply ingrained assumptions about who matters in the world—excluded from the circle of meaning making by virtue of their skin color, gender or dialect. Their attempts at sorting out meaning, bestowing significance and telling truthful stories are ignored, mocked or worse. In an unsettling irony, millions of them make the very cultural artifacts that allow us to engage in meaning-making acts—within reach as I write are my smartphone, my laptop, my ebook reader, my widescreen monitor, all the essential tools that allow me to make something of the world in the deepest sense. But the voices and stories of those who made these tools remain unheard and untold, and the goods they manufacture arrive in our stores and homes sealed in supernaturally clean plastic, from which human fingerprints have been conscientiously removed.

This is not the way it was supposed to be. To be sure, not all powerlessness is bad. Some of our limits are themselves a gift. The things our human bodies cannot do far outnumber the things we can do; our ability to make sense of the world runs up against the world's many unfathomable mysteries. These limits often serve us well. But when powerlessness results from the exercise of power—when one person or group of people acts to deprive another of power, and especially when that pattern of exclusion persists from generation to generation—then something has gone fiercely wrong, and not just for the ones who directly suffer their disempowerment. Because the ability to make something of the world is in a real sense the source of human well-being, because true power multiplies capacity and wealth, when any human beings live in entrenched powerlessness, all of us are impoverished.

Taken from Playing God by Andy Crouch. Copyright (c) 2013 by Andy Crouch. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, PO Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com