by Jon Carlson
"What makes the temptation of power so seemingly irresistible? Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life…"
– Henri Nouwen
People often talk about how difficult a life in politics can be. Political engagement isn't for the faint-hearted or thin-skinned, they tell us.
For Christians, though, politics may be precisely that: an easy shortcut, a temptation that draws us away from a hard life of faithfulness by offering a quick path to perceived effectiveness.
Faithfulness and effectiveness aren't always synonymous. We can point to the "effectiveness" of our political program (whether it's reducing abortions or increasing financial support for the poor or curbing gun violence or strengthening families or any other value), but effectiveness doesn't guarantee that we've faithfully followed Christ along the journey. It may mean just the opposite.
When we're relentlessly pursuing power, it's much harder to remain faithful.
When we're relentlessly pursuing power, it's much harder to remain faithful. We can become slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to become angry. We stop speaking the truth in love to one another. Our gentleness (if there's any of it left) becomes evident to no one. We abandon patience and kindness in favor of arrogance and rudeness, insisting on our own way.
And we justify all of this by pointing to our perceived "effectiveness." We abandon the hard task of love in favor of the easier exercise of power. It's easier to control those around us than to love them.
Christ summons us to a harder path, where the courage of our convictions drives us to diligently and persistently love—not control—people in the midst of complexity, difficulty, and messiness.
All this talk of "love" can sound naïve, like a failure to recognize the complexity and danger of the world. Yet the path of love that Christ walked led to the Cross. The love demonstrated at Calvary challenges our naïvete and invites sober, honest self-assessment. Faithfully loving those around us is a difficult journey, not an easy shortcut. We're called to count the cost, and then to follow faithfully in Jesus' footsteps.
- Do you see power as an opportunity or a temptation? Why?
- Why does power seem easier than love? What makes love difficult?
- Where have you seen the pursuit of power come at the cost of faithfulness?
Jon Carlson serves as Lead Pastor of Forest Hills Mennonite Church outside of Lancaster, PA. Jon and his wife, Lyn, are raising three kids who seem to have endless supplies of energy. Follow on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.