Summary: The current church seems so obsessed with the power of God. What kind of power is it? Is it after all a power that comes from weakness?
It has been my habit for many years to read through the Bible each year. As I continue this practice I am increasingly amazed at how absurd God’s plan for the world and his kingdom is — that is, in human terms. God seems to delight in abuse and rejection, for he receives plenty of it. He seems, by our standards, to prefer weakness to strength, humiliation over domination, freedom over control, gentleness over force, and grace over condemnation. I have become what you might call “enamored” with God’s weakness.
The whole drama begins with creation. God creates a world that he pronounces “good,” and then introduces into the world human beings who are capable of doing great evil and destroying the very good he has created. He gives them freedom of will that means they can reject him, avoid him, disobey him, contradict him and even work against him without being destroyed by him. Free will is a frightening thing. The more freedom he gives us, the less power he has. Anything humans do seems to go unchecked, and things seem to be out of control. In fact, the great conundrum of theology through the ages has been, “Why doesn’t God do something about the evil in the world?” It is not only the question of theologians, but anyone who has experienced the effects of evil in the world, like mass murders in a Colorado theater, and who cry out to God and question him. Why hasn’t God destroyed the world a thousand times over, like he did in the days of Noah, over the evil in the world? In fact, when evil people decide to harm innocent people, God does nothing to stop them. The gift of freedom to humans puts them in a frightening position of power, and is a part of the weakness of God. If he stopped one evil person, then there would be no such thing as free will. We would not be moral beings and there would be no moral choices. But he will not force anyone to do good, or take away from them the power of choice, even when they choose to do wrong. God calls and beckons, but he does not overpower. God is working in silent and mysterious ways that often look frail and weak to the casual observer.
Eventually, the Bible has the story of how God chooses to work through a man named Abram. Ah, the man whom God renames Abraham. There is new hope. God makes a covenant with this man and promises that all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him. God’s plan for the world, his plan of salvation, rests with this man. But hardly had the covenant been made than Abraham nearly sabotaged it — giving his wife to two different kings (Pharaoh and Abimilech) to do with her as they pleased — before the promised child could come. And when Abraham felt he could wait no longer, he had a child by a household slave, which caused problems of historic proportions that we are still living with today. The plan seems so frail and so open to disaster. Abraham struggles in believing God and trusting in his promises — so much like us. We could go on with Abraham’s son Isaac, and his son Jacob, and his sons who became the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel. Story after story of their failures and unfaithfulness — the weakness of God on display. No one would have mistaken this for power.
We especially like to point to the account in Exodus of God bringing his people out of slavery. But this is a miserable lot. They are uneducated and uncultured slaves with mud splattered all over them from making bricks. They have long forgotten the faith of their father Abraham. Yes, it seems that God uses great power to deliver them from Egypt with the plagues and parting of the Red Sea. But the whole covenant and plan of God is resting with these rebellious people who turn out to be a grumbling and discontented lot, in spite of what God has done for them. Rather than showing appreciation for how God has rescued them from a life of misery, they repeatedly want to return to Egypt and slavery — to their leeks and onions and pots full of meat. They have already forgotten about their hard labor and abject subjection. God gives Moses the Commandments in an awesome display of power, but Moses does not even get down from the mountain before they have begun to worship the gods of Egypt again and indulge in sexual revelry. They did not heed the power of God, spectacular though it was. God threatens to do away with them, but he does not, because that is not who he is. Weakness.