"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." -Romans 8:28
I've been reflecting a lot lately on how one navigates the complicated world of political intrigue, personal relationships, power dynamics and the way of Christ. In the world of the 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene, we are all playing a power game whether we know it or not and the smart people merely play it well. What follows from this idea that we are all playing a giant power game? We shouldn't be bothered by the "petty feelings of others," we should intimidate others, use flattery when it suits us, wear many faces, and seek to manipulate when we can. Basically, this book seems to adopt a Nietzche worldview assuming one must be beyond good and evil and that the will to power is fundamental. In my initial estimation, I thought this book offered some insights, but in order for it to work one would have to be 1) a sociopath 2) a brilliant sociopath (many of us are just bright) and 3) the most brilliant sociopath. However, in the end, I reject his view of the world entirely. Yes, many of us are susceptible to the will for power and yes there may be a dark side. Yet, so much more is hardwired in us that is not easily reduced to mere power games and allows the functional of us to have meaningful and transformative relationships. Also, a word of caution, the author seems to have cycled through at least 80 jobs (not surprising in the least) before catching a great book deal. Perhaps, the book that is more his style is The Art of Seduction than climbing the ladder to power.
Better to choose another leadership or strategy book to read unless you want to understand a large swath of people who think they are both brutal and brilliant.
With all of the above in mind, most of us are not sociopaths. And yet, power games are a reality that creates stress in a variety of social environments whether at work, church, home or other gatherings. And we are all faced with little choices whether it is to join into gossiping, speaking in unflattering ways about others, forming tight clicks, using position or privilege to get rid of someone or wedge them out of a job we want, failing to see the value in others, wearing different masks to fit in, lying, manipulating...etc. Or on the other side, we often fail to recognize good deeds God has prepared for us in advance such as giving of our time, providing a kind word, welcoming a new person, esteeming the gifts of others, or putting talented people in positions of influence who may have otherwise not been considered (race? gender? personality?).
Can we recognize that we may have sinned against God "by what we have done, and by what we have left undone"? Do we even know what we have missed out on?
Some of us navigate a tightrope in the game of power because of our ethnicity, gender or, other signifiers. On the one hand, passivity may mean lack of survival and on the other playing the game seems to be the opposite of what Jesus modeled for us when he emptied himself and took on flesh. It seems in this complicated world many even find it moral that me as a feminist more than demand equal treatment, but even further, that I go out of my way to demean and snuff out the privileged other. They view themselves as morally superior for doing so. My basic thoughts are that if we must play the game of power we must reconceptualize power.
God is our life blood, our present, and future. He colors the way I see myself and evil in the world so that a transfiguration takes place. The reality of a crucified Christ brings the color of the resurrection into the now so that circumstances are not always as they seem. A woman being brutalized and exploited in public as a lesson for those who would challenge the masculine authority of a mighty empire is also a representative of the eternal God who gave his life for our salvation. She is not a victim but a warrior (cf. Perpetua and Blandina). Even Eve in her failure and in her, the people of Ephesus can be "pregnant" with Christ's salvation (1 Tim 2:15-3:1a).
I believe our defiance against the powers that be is to simply be in Christ and let our actions be shaped from it. I know people have found me offensive when I speak my mind, preach or teach theology, not because of content (though no one is perfect) but because of my God-given female body. I have found myself at concrete and implicit disadvantages because of it. Resistance is in being who I am and not being ashamed of it and know that God chooses the little ones to do great things with.
However, there is a dark side to seeing one's self through the lens of God. It is not uncommon to find individuals and empires claiming divine authority (taking the Lord's name in vain) for doing evil. They rationalize that their success is God-approved or God-ordained. We are winning/doing well/succeeding/making lots of money because God is for us. They appeal to God in order to rationalize their choices (usually in the form of fragmentary ideas or texts placed into a framework of power). Where the Bible often asks "How long O Lord?" and "Why do the wicked prosper?" they see behind their system, institution, and success in life the might of God's Sovereignty so that they can do no wrong. You must simply adapt yourself to their godly will.
And yet God's Shekinah glory is ever present with us (even if not yet realized) making our interactions with others visible to God and taking place in holy space. How can we not live out our calling as representatives (image bearers) of God in Christ?
Many of us also know that things do not always work out for the good for those who love God at least not in the sense of how those in power perceive it. Those who love God get killed, their sense of self-twisted, their children die, they lose jobs, they get publically humiliated and yet in another sense, everything does turn out for their good because they love God and he is their life now and in the future. We worship a powerful figure, a crucified Christ, one who rose on the third day and promises our resurrection as well.
At the end of my day, I know very well that I am small and haven't grown to where God wants me in my character. But I have hope because God is patient, infinitely loving and full of contagious joy and so I find it helpful to pray with others:
Most merciful God,
We confess that we have sinned against you
In thought, word, and deed, by what we have done,
And by what we have left undone,.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
Have mercy on us and forgive us;
That we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways,
To the glory of your Name. Amen.