Love vs. Power

Love vs. Power August 11, 2012

This post is from Bev Mitchell… His information is at the bottom.

The opposite of love is power

In the beginning of God’s creating the skies and the earth – when the earth had been shapeless and formless, and darkness was on the face of the deep, and God’s spirit was hovering on the face of the water – God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. (R.E. Friedman, Commentary on the Torah)

Yet, in Matthew’s gospel we read (NIV):

The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

(the tempter then said) “If you are the Son of God …. throw yourself down. For it is written: …”

(Then, showing him everything than might be controlled by power, he said) “All this I will give you…..if you will bow down and worship me.”

What is going on here? We believe that the same Holy Spirit is involved in both accounts – Jesus went into the dessert “full of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4) and “God’s spirit was hovering”. In one account it appears that God is acting by using his indescribable power. In firmly rejecting the three temptations, Jesus is apparently turning his back on the use of power. Yet, the same Spirit presides in both situations.The very thing that the Spirit of God created seems to be offered to Jesus to control, yet he declines saying “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

On another occasion Jesus says: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord: … (KJV) before going on to say that the two greatest commandments are to love God and love other people. There is a very large clue here. Yes God is powerful enough to create the universe, and Jesus could have used this power to rule the universe – but what about the greatest commandments? How can we get by this apparent contradiction? Was the tempter correct? Did Jesus miss his big chance?

We are dealing here, just as Jesus was, with the choice of doing things God’s way or the deceiver’s way. God’s way is love. Or as John puts it in 1 John “God is love”. In case we think this essential attribute of God lets us off the hook in any way, we should read from the beginning of the sentence – “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (NIV)

So, what is the relationship between power and love? Why does God appear to use power at creation and eschew power later on – even going to the point of telling us we can only know him through love? Are we missing something? Is a popular way of interpreting this correct? What was God doing when he said “Let there be light”? Was he exercising unfathomable power or unfathomable love? Is power even the opposite of love? If it is, how does that change our thinking about God, his attributes, his sovereignty? Does God’s love derive from his power, or does his power derive from his love?

To show that this is much more than a chicken and egg question, we should consider the nature of power (as we know it) and the nature of love (as we know it). The chicken and the egg are morally neutral. Power and love, and certainly in our hands, are not. The following comparison may help answer the questions listed above. You can decide for yourself which way to go.

Power and love are like water and oil, like darkness and light. “When God began to create heaven and earth – the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water – God said ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” (Tanakh, JPS 1985). Power looks to violence, love looks to healing and restoration:

power destroys – love creates
power enslaves – love gives freedom
power brings darkness – love brings light
power engenders fear -love engenders hope
power coerces – love persuades
power controls – love cooperates
power closes – love opens
power hoards – love shares
power spreads falsehood – love reveals truth
power brings sadness – love brings joy
power is ultimately ineffective – love is ultimately effective
power is Satan’s way – love is God’s way
power is well understood – love is poorly understood
power is in a hurry – love is patient
power is prideful – love is humble
power is heavy – love is light
power is discordant – love is harmonious
power screeches – love whispers
power kills – love resurrects.

And even better from 1 Cor 13 in the contemporary language of “The Message”:

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first”,
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the following of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies.

And yet, one might still counter, but what about the end? Will not every knee bow to Christ? What about this verse? “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” Romans 14:11. or as the Isaiah 45 passage puts it “every tongue shall swear allegiance.” (Both quotes from ESV). Just as in thinking about God’s ability to create we can think about his ability to “get” all to bow down – all that is required is the love of God. Love, even in our hands, can do wondrous things. Just try to imagine how effective such love can be through the one who is love itself! Yes, there will be a Judgement Day, and the first just accusation we all will face will be “But you did not love enough.”

Dr. BK (Bev) Mitchell
Biologist, writer,
hopeful theology popularizer,
aspiring critical realist.
NB Canada, Oaxaca, MX

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