To be serious for a moment today I will be looking at some difficult issues, relationships, marriage, family etc. For many there are issues around these topics which can be sensitive, at times and as is my wont, to be make things easier and lighter through humour I might possibly offend some of you. I apologise as it is not my intention. For others of you who look forward to these Realistic Christianity series sermons, you might be looking forward to be being offended and the potential ‘discussion’ that you can have later. So I can only profusely apologise if you haven’t been offended enough.
Lord Acton ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ That’s why I dislike catchphrases or clichés… because they are always true. Well, they contain the consistent element of truth. Pointed out earlier by Greek Euripides ‘Whom the gods would destroy, they first make drunk with power.’
Nietzsche said the ‘will to power’ is the basic human drive and the key to human life.
(Marx) Freud tried to explain all human behaviour as an attempt to satisfy our sexual appetites the ‘will to pleasure’. I believe that Nietzsche was closer to the truth than Freud with his understanding of human nature; I believe he would have claimed that that much of what goes on in sexual relationships has little to do with gratifying libido urges. Instead it is a grab for power.
Christopher Lasch in his book Haven in a material world argues that the home is a place of peace and renewal for people who have endured oppression and put downs in the workplace. That we go to work every day and live in a ‘dog eat dog world’ where there are so many power play games in order to advance our careers and then we retreat to our safe place , our castle where is peace and harmony. The home is the safe place with protective walls to keep the hostile world out.
Yet that is not the reality. Some of the worst emotional battlegrounds are located in the home, in the context of family life. People return to their ‘safe place’ and in so many places only find them filled with tension, arguments and hostile. Husbands and wife’s try to control each other, sibling rivals try to dominate each other.
A sociologist Willard Waller wrote about family life. How his marriage like his parents had been a disaster. His words. As he studied what had gone wrong in his marriage his parents and others , he discovered that very often when opting for divorce people continued to suffer from profound unhappiness. And many who stayed together were together because of religious reasons or a sense of duty. He believed that what lay behind all of this sadness was a need, craving for power inherent in human nature.
One way to gain power is to withhold love. He called this the ‘principle of least interest’. He argued that the person who has the most power will exercise the least amount of love. When a daughter phones home from university and says ‘I’ve found a special person and I am in love.’ There is suddenly a need to meet this person…. to judge for ourselves, we wonder whether or not being in love has made the daughter vulnerable to manipulation or control.
In dating: boy tries his best at proving he is the nicest boy ever, that he has never experienced love like this before, that he never knew love could be so wonderful etc. Yong woman may not be so naive. She may have learnt the hard way with caution she may pride herself on not being taken in. Her game may be to get him to be in love with her without allowing herself to become emotionally involved with him in advance. And so the game is played; each person trying to love less! Each withholding love in order to gain power, each afraid to love because it would mean the loss of power.
When we understand that God meant love to be mutually gratifying relationship, each submitting to each other. Being afraid to express love in fear of losing power becomes a habit. How many of us remember in school telling a friend you liked/loved someone and that friend then joking that he would tell them. The feeling of embarrassment: you might say to the friend, plead, I will do anything you want just don’t tell her. What was I afraid of? What was the horror? I was afraid she would know that I liked her without first knowing if she liked me. If she didn’t like me, I would have been vulnerable.
Various books written on male/female difference in respect to power. One of the obvious: men’s inability to ask for directions For a man to stop and ask someone is a display of his powerlessness. To give up power is something that men can find difficult. Consequently how often is the wife/ partner asked to go in and ask for directions. The reason that the children of Israel were lost in the wilderness for forty years was because Moses was a man. And why it took the three wise men so long.
Men are not the only one who play power games. But as society has a view that women shouldn’t conduct themselves aggressively, women practice their power games a lot more subtlety. Feminism rightly brought attention to a whole set of issues which needed to be sorted… To condemn what has been done and is still being done by 50 million aggressive, domineering abusive husbands. However the Christian solution is not to provide power and help empower 50 million women to push back.
For the theologians in the audience that’s why all liberation theologies ultimately fail, whether they are feminist, Latin/poor or gay or for children. They attempt to give ‘power’ to the powerless. That way disaster lies. That is the secular way. If someone has lived their life subjected and powerless the answer is not to suddenly give them power however attractive that might appear. Self determination and empowerment are not Christian values. Love and servant hood is.
To love is a vulnerable condition. Christ made himself vulnerable. Pauls teaching in that controversial passage ‘the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church’ Eph 5:23. Yes the bible clearly states that wives should ‘submit’ to their husbands; but if you read the rest of that chapter, you find that husbands are supposed to love their wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it. How did Jesus love the church? By emptying himself of power and becoming its servant/slave.
Now I have to ask: what woman would have any trouble submitting completely to a man who denied himself and more than willing to be her slave? To me that sounds a lot more exciting…
‘As love increases power decreases’. To enjoy love to its fullest is to love without fear or use of power. And to love is to become comfortable with giving up power and submitting to each other so that each of us esteems the other person ahead of himself or herself.