Monday, 19 March 2012

Lenten Meditation - The Temptation to be Powerful

Henri Nouwen lists the temptations Jesus faces in the wilderness as: - 'to Relevance' - "you're hungry? Turn the stones into bread!"; 'to Spectacle' - "Throw yourself from the Temple"; and 'to Power' - "Worship me and all this will be yours".

Lent challenges all three of these head on - there is nothing more irrelevant than withdrawal from the world and aspects of our life we feel to be so significant - there is nothing spectacular about the hidden work of the Spirit as exemplified in Jesus' teaching in Matthew 6 - and when you're  so hungry you cannot lift a finger, all your 'power' is gone from you'.

All three speak to deep anxiety within us, Fear - the root and fruit of all sin. But of the three it is perhaps the Temptation to Power which speaks most seductively. We are surrounded by Fear of being powerless, just think for a moment how we fear poverty, or old age, or debilitating illness - all those things which in no way good in themselves, are doubly damned in our eyes as they rob us of Power, of Self determination.

And the temptation to Power is itself doubly seductive in that it both conceals and feeds The Cardinal Sin - Pride. 'Look at what I can do!' - 'Look at what I have Done!' - 'Consider this fine Life I have made for myself!'. With Power we can have life the way we want it, or so we would like to think. Fear desires Power and thus is the root of Pride - the self made life.

And so Satan comes to Jesus to tempt him - 'you can have Everything you want . . .'

'I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven'

Now we all know that Satan fell because of his Pride - but reading these words from Jesus in their context in the tenth chapter of Luke's gospel, we might be blinded to the fact that that is what he is talking about to his disciples. Jesus has just sent them out to go ahead of him, labourers into the harvest field, and  - 'The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!" ' Jesus responds immediately with the words about the fall of Satan - and it is too easy to think he is referring to Satan's defeat. So schooled are we in the dualism of cosmic warfare - (yes there is a warfare but it is far far more subtle than we allow) - that we imagine this is about Christ's Victory - yet is it not rather a warning to the disciples about Pride?? 

Jesus goes on 'See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’ Do not rejoice in what you can do!! Remember I have seen the consequences of Pride - I saw the great angel Satan Fall. 
The fundamental call is to Faith in the Love of God, that drives out Fear and thus can never be a fuel for Pride. When we fall into the Sin of Pride of what we have done and can do - we then Need Power for nothing else will sustain the life we choose to make for ourself, that we now have no choice but to make having rejected the free gift of Life. Thus we are always at root Afraid. The Proud Person is Afraid.

'Satan is Afraid!' many tub thumping preachers have said - whipping up the cosmic conflict. 'Satan is afraid because he knows his final defeat in imminent!!'. This is not so. Not that Satan is not defeated. But his fear is not caused by his defeat, rather he is defeated because he is afraid. He has been defeated from the first. The most oft repeated command in scripture is precisely Do Not Be Afraid. It is as if it is the root of everything. As John says, the one who fears has not been made perfect in Love, for Love casts out Fear.

The temptation to power is very subtle - it seems to promise us everything and it works on our weakest point, that is our lack of faith in the Goodness of God. It whispers in our ear, 'You Are Responsible' - God will not come through with the goods - why not do it yourself?? And we listen and are afraid and cast around for that which will build us up and having found it we become full of Pride.

Power and 'Success' in Ministry

Recently I've noted a disturbing video. In it two prominent church leaders in the USA criticize one of their fellow ministers for relinquishing his very 'successful' pastorate. It is well critiqued on the excellent blog 'Lost in the North' and also in the journal 'Out of Ur', but what I cannot get away from  is the strong suspicion that these powerful leaders cannot bless this other minister in his bold move because they are at root afraid. What would they look like if all the trappings of big church were removed?

Fear does this - it entraps us - it entombs us.

Dante in his Inferno finds Satan in the seventh circle of hell, literally entombed in ice.

Satan rejected the gift of Life - Afraid of Love, thus sought Power in and of himself and so fell
This Fall is the Universal fall

Fear seeks Power which feeds Pride

It is a deadly trap - it is why we Must go out into the Wilderness - casting those those things aside upon which we have come to depend, that we might learn not to be afraid, but there to freely bear the beams of Divine Love.

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