The "Power Over" Kingdom
25 August 2010
I read The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest For Political Power Is Destroying the Church by Gregory Boyd for the first time about two years ago. I remember being staggered by what Pastor Boyd presented, and felt it was probably the most important book I had ever read. Recently I read it again, this time through the lens of this Your Islamic Future Web site. Under these conditions, the impact was even more profound. And I feel more than ever that it is probably the most important book I have ever read. For this reason, I'm placing it at the very top of my Recommended Reading list.
Because this Web site is dedicated to examining Islam and related issues, you may be wondering why I'm focusing on a book with a subtitle "How the Quest For Political Power Is Destroying the Church", relating to political and religious issues in America. But believe me, this book has EVERYTHING to do with Islam and the Biblical response to it — as will become evident as I dedicate seven articles to reviewing the contents of this incredible book.
For today's first article, we will start with an examination of the nature of the "power over" kingdom:
Wherever a person or group exercises power over others — or tries to — there is a version of the kingdom of the world. While it comes in many forms, the kingdom of the world is in essence a "power over" kingdom. There have been democratic, socialist, communist, fascist and totalitarian versions of the kingdom of the world, but they all share this distinctive characteristic: they exercise "power over" people.
I refer to the power that the kingdom of the world wields as "the power of the sword." I'm not referring to a literal sword necessarily — though that has often been true — but rather, to the ability of those in power to inflict pain on those who threaten or defy their authority. The power of the sword is the ability to coerce behavior by threats and to make good on those threats when necessary: if a law is broken, you will be punished. Of course, the laws of the different versions of the kingdom of the world vary greatly, but the raised sword behind the laws gives them their power, and that keeps every version of the kingdom of the world intact.
Though all versions of the kingdom of the world try to influence how their subject think and feel, their power resides in their ability to control behavior. As effective as a raised sword is in producing conformity, it cannot bring about an internal change.... Laws, enforced by the sword, control behavior but cannot change hearts.
The "power over" that all versions of the kingdom of the world exercise is not altogether bad. The sword is part of our common curse, yet God uses it to keep law and order in the world.... God's intent is to use any given "power over" government as His "servant for ... good." God uses governments as He finds them, in all their ungodly rebellious ways, to serve His own providential purposes.
But we need to know another important dimension of the Biblical teaching about the kingdom of the world. While God directs governments for the good of fallen people, Scripture also teaches that another cosmic force exists, one that is hostile to God and influences governments to accomplish evil. Indeed, sometimes the scope of authority granted to this cosmic adversary, Satan, in Scripture is astounding.
Apparently, the authority of all the kingdoms of the world has been given to Satan. It's not clear from this text [Luke 4:5-7] whether we humans gave the Devil this authority when we surrendered to him in the Garden (Genesis 3) or whether God originally entrusted Lucifer with this authority before he rebelled. What is clear is that, however it came about, God's cosmic archenemy now owns the authority of all versions of the kingdom of the world and gives this authority to whomever he pleases.
This teaching is in various ways found throughout the New Testament. John goes so far as to claim that "the whole world likes under the power of the evil one" (1 John 5:19) and refers to all the kingdoms of the world as a single kingdom under demonic rule that is in the process of being delivered over to Jesus (Revelation 11:15). This kingdom is symbolized as "Babylon," the violent world empire that opposes God at every turn, in the book of Revelation. Her servants are the world's rulers, and "all nations" are "deceived" by her "sorcery" (Revelation 18:23) — the deceptive lure of power. Certainly some governments are better than others, for they carry out God's purpose of preserving law and order better than others. But no earthly kingdom, however good, is exempt from the Scriptural teaching that it is part of "Babylon," a worldwide kingdom ruled by Satan.
Along these same lines, Jesus three times refers to Satan as the "ruler of this world" (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). The term "ruler" ["prince"] (arche) was a political term used to denote the highest ruling authority in a given region — and Jesus applied it to Satan over the whole world! Functionally, Satan is the acting CEO of all earthly governments. Paul agrees, for he refers to Satan as "the god of this age" and as "the ruler of the power of the air" (2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2). We see, then, that while God ultimately gives authority to governments to preserve law and order in a fallen world, and while God orders and orchestrates governments as He finds them to His own providential advantage, Satan — "the Destroyer" who "deceives the nations" (Revelation 9:11; 20:3,8; especially 13:14) — is heavily involved in all of them and works at cross-purposes to God.
There is a strong demonic presence polluting all versions of the kingdom of the world.... While believers should strive to be good citizens, praying and working for peace and justice, they must always practice a healthy suspicion toward the "power over," sword-wielding government they are subject to.... When we accept that the Destroyer who has been a "murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44) is the functional ruler of all versions of the kingdom of the world, we can make sense of the fact that the history of the world has been one of violent conflict.... Historians estimate that in the twentieth century alone over 200 million people died as a result of war and political conflict. The history of the world is a massive river of blood, and this waste of life testifies not only to the violent tendencies of the fallen human heart but to the destructive nature of the ruler of the kingdom of this world.
We fallen humans have passionate convictions that control us and lead us into conflict with others who have equally passionate convictions. We believe in OUR nation over and against THEIR nation, OUR religion over and against THEIR religion, OUR culture over and against THEIR culture, OUR political ideology over and against THEIR political ideology, and so on. And insofar as we are influenced by the kingdom of the world, we express these passions by attempting to exercise "power over" others as their nation, culture, religion, or political ideology conflicts with or threatens our own. Violence is the inevitable result.
It's hard not to get pulled into the fallen passions that fuel the violence of the kingdom of the world. Indeed, the demonic, tribalistic passion that sets "us" over against "them" seems completely natural to us in our fallen condition. If you hit me, my natural (fallen) instinct is to hit you back — not turn the other cheek! Tit for tat, eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth — this is what makes the bloody kingdom of the world go around.
You probably passionately believe that our cause is just and theirs is evil, but the terrorists passionately believe their cause is just and ours is evil. Your passion for American justice is mirrored by their passion for Islamic justice.... Given OUR passionate convictions and given THEIR passionate convictions, this bloody tit-for-tat game is almost inevitable. OUR particular tribal, national, religious, and political passions directly conflict with THEIR tribal, national, religious, and political passions, and this gives birth to a shared sense of righteous indignation willing to violently crush each other.
At the same time, it's important to remember that history itself always feeds our conflicting passions. Much of the profound animosity Islamic terrorists feel towards "satanic" America is fueled by a cultural memory of what Christians did to Muslims during the Crusades. Believing that America is a Christian nation, they direct their collective, historically acquired hatred toward it. Now, you might be tempted to respond by saying, "Well, THEY did a lot of bad stuff to Christians throughout history as well" — and you'd be right. But this is exactly the sort of thinking that fuels the endless tit-for-tat kingdom of the world. You naturally believe your tribe (Christians/America) is at least a bit less guilty than the opposition, and this is exactly what they believe about their tribe. And so the bloody games goes on, as it has in one form or another across the globe and throughout history. Under the rule of Satan and other fallen gods, Babylon has reigned on the earth since the original rebellion.
Fallen humans tend to identify their own group and righteous and any group that opposes them as evil. If THEY were not evil, we tend to believe, no conflict would exist. Hence, the only way to end the conflict is to "rid the world of this evil," as President George W. Bush said after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. The "good" (our tribe) must extinguish the "evil" (their tribe), using all means necessary, including violence. This is the age-old "myth of redemptive violence."
The true cause of violence, of course, is not "the enemy" but something much more fundamental, something both we and our enemy have in common. The true cause lies in the fact that our fallen hearts are idolatrous and subject to the fallen powers that influence us.
So long as people locate their worth, significance, and security in their power, possessions, traditions, reputations, religious behaviors, tribe, and nation rather than in a relationship with their Creator, Babylon's bloody tit-for-tat game is inevitable. Of course, peaceful solutions must still be sought and can, to some degree, be attained with regard to each particular conflict. But as long as humans define their personal and tribal self-interests over and against other people's competing personal and tribal interests, violence is inevitable and will break out again.
This myth has been especially strong in American history and has again been invoked in the war against terrorism: We, the righteous nation, will root out all evil. But people who align themselves with the Kingdom of God must see through the deception of this nationalistic mantra, for those who live by the sword will die by the sword (Matthew 26:52).... Any peace achieved by violence is a peace forever threatened by violence, thus ensuring that the bloody game will be perpetuated.
The hope of the world lies in a Kingdom that is not of this world, a Kingdom that doesn't participate in tit for tat, a Kingdom that operates with a completely different understanding of power.... It would not be a "power over" kingdom; it would be a "power under" Kingdom.
This discussion is continued in part two of this series: The "Power Under" Kingdom