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On Faith

Fritz Fritschel

Religious thought
may misunderstand power

The term "power" seems simple enough to understand. Yet I believe it has been the source of many abuses and misunderstandings in religious thought.

That is, when we apply certain notions of power to God, we often produce a real dilemma, if not real danger.

Developing a clear concept of divine power can be a great help in preserving a sense of human freedom and responsibility, in acknowledging divine influence in the evolutionary process, in coming to terms with the reality of genuine evil, and for avoiding imperialistic notions and policies.

The problem occurs when all power is seen as concentrated in one center. This is often what supernatural theism entails.

God, in this view, is seen as having a monopoly on power. If God is seen as all-powerful in this sense, then all other creatures are seen as acting by virtue of divine control or divine will. The world is seen as having no power of its own, but only having a derivative or subordinate power.

Power for the creatures is power given gratuitously, granted and permitted by God, who has the final say and control. Nothing can happen except what God wills or at least permits.

The world is essentially a unilateral world.

Although there are biblical passages reflecting such supernatural power, along with an accompanying arbitrary intervention, it is not the only image of power available in Scripture.

And it is certainly not the most admirable. Such an image of power leads to authoritarian and imperialistic attitudes and practices.

A more adequate and admirable notion is to regard divine power as personal, compassionate and persuasive.

Here emphasis will be put upon the last term. Persuasion recognizes that all creatures -- indeed, all animals, molecules and quarks -- have power, also.

Thus, all creatures have a range of choice and freedom, along with the responsibility that comes with such freedom. There is no monopoly of power in one center, no unilateral power.

And there is no absolute control that a divine agency has within the world, intervening in some last-ditch effort. Unfortunately, the seeds and expressions of imperialism fashion themselves on this kind of model.

Persuasive power can be divine and supreme without being absolute, in the sense that the divine influence affects every event that happens, luring the world toward more adequate expressions of truth, beauty and goodness.

But influence is not the same as control. Influence or persuasion operates with the lure of ideal aims, with a vision that more just systems of order can be established, with a prospect that beauty and harmony can be enhanced, with a longing that more adequate expressions of truth may be found.

Influence allows each creature, according to its own realm of circumstances, to choose what sense of order, unity and harmony will be accomplished.

Persuasive power is the power of love.

Certainly this allows for real evil to occur in the world. Creatures do not have to follow the ideal aims offered. Yet, it makes sense of an evolutionary process in life. It also places a great deal of responsibility on the choices made by creatures. Furthermore, it avoids the tendency to develop imperialistic ideas and policies.

The Rev. Fritz Fritschel recently retired as chaplain at Hospice Hawaii and serves part time on the clergy staff at Lutheran Church of Honolulu.


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