When I was in seminary, I would scratch my head whenever I stumbled across biblical texts in the New Testament that used the word “power” in a manner that had very little to do with coercion and domination. I finally turned the corner after studying Greek for quite a while; the underlying verbal form of the word that means power indicates or denotes raw ‘capacity’ or ‘ability’. In does not indicate what said ability does or is used for. Likely because of power-hungry persons who control big media, we have been taught to assume that the word/concept ‘power’ means something like: “capacity to do what you want, or capacity or impose your will, or capacity to have things your way.” ‘Power’ or ‘capacity’ need not serve these ends. This is what Philippians 3 taught me:

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and sharing in His sufferings by becoming like Him in His death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:10).

This is not a one off either: Scripture uses the word ‘power’ in very alien ways. What precisely is the power associated with resurrection, that power which is proper to it? It is the capacity for life in a rules-based future eternity, sharing in the very life-force of an all loving God. What is this capacity’s purpose? The resurrection of Jesus was both an invitation and the enabling event(s) to have continued life with God, forever. Our definitions of power, or the world’s definitions, almost always implies or outright presupposes ‘coercion’. The power of the resurrection, though, is about invitation, renewed life, opportunity, and jettisoning of death/sin. This is a capacity that is not centered on “taking” or “plundering.” Instead, this power is given, it is offered. ‘Power’ need not be defined as an imposition or a forceful effort to get our way. This is the fallen world’s understanding: it is not surprising — the world has no narrative like the Gospel to craft the world differently. The world only sees everything as a kind of currency based on the notion of scarcity; those with renewed eyes know that we should reinterpret this world in terms of abundance because this is the cosmos’ ultimate destiny.

The quest for us, therefore, is to use power in this divine manner rather than a merely human/worldly way. The simplest way to differentiate these two types of power are thus:

  • Godly: power for/with love
  • Worldly: coercive power

What is striking is that we likely just assume (2) most of the time. (2) robs ‘power’ of its proper dignity. We are servants of the Gospel: the power or capacity we supply is one that frees those we influence from the dominion of evil, sin, and darkness. Godly power is about enabling new capacities in others to walk a divine road of morality, rightness, and love. We must be careful to offer one caveat: Godly power, ever set on setting things towards righteousness, can become overpowering coercion when faced with immovable evil (or otherwise, we don’t need much of the Book of Revelation, do we?). With that said, our capacities we use should be to grow or to point to wonderful capacities to those in our realm of influence. This is power that is on the creative side of things, not coercive. I want to operate in this divine definition of ‘power’, how about you?

Dr. Scalise