Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Is Love Powerful?

In watching a video of Ken Meyers delivering a keynote address at Hope College, he quotes literary and social critic, Marion Montgomery, as saying, “The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is power.” (HT: Justin Taylor)

Quotes like this in their brevity require a bit of interpretation. On the surface, this idea seems curious. What did Marion Montgomery mean by this? I’m not very familiar with Marion Montgomery. Is he a Christian? A quick glance at Wikipedia indicates that he was perhaps Roman Catholic. How faithful he was to that is anyone’s guess. I suspect that most people who would read this don’t have a clue.

So we first contemplate the most reasonable possible meaning of this statement by asking the question: In what ways is power antithetical to love? Perhaps Montgomery was thinking about the tendency of people to seek power over other people in the ordering of lives for the sake of enhancing the quality of their own life at the expense of the quality of another’s life. Given the Montgomery was a social critic, this makes sense. Perhaps one could draw some distinction between this kind of power-seeking and hatred, although the two overlap in some ways.

Does this make sense theologically? Jesus told the disciples in Mark 10:42ff that rulers of the Gentiles lord it over people, but that it should not be so among them. The idea of power-hunger is in some significant way not the way leadership should be carried out among Christians. This seems reasonable.

Now there are Christians who think this way fundamentally. If we love God, we should submit to him. That is, our love for God is to give up power over ourselves. But they apply the same thinking to God. Since god loves us, he’s a “gentleman”. That is, he doesn’t try to control us. If the opposite of love is power, then God cannot be both loving and all-powerful.

The problem is that this is not what the Bible teaches. Not only is God loving and all-powerful, he is love and power.

Now the observation that people who are hungry for power are sinfully hateful in doing so does not negate that power used righteously is loving. Think of a person who lacks the ability to care for himself. It is loving for someone who is able to exert power over that person in order to seek the best interest of the one who is incapable.

This concept plays into the debate over Reformed theology. Those who oppose it say that man is capable of choosing Christ on his own. Therefore, it is not loving for God to exhibit power over men. Those who are Reformed in their thinking say that man in incapable of choosing Christ on his own. Therefore, it is loving for God to use his power to give him the ability to make that choice.

There are more refined nuances that I won’t go into regarding different strains of Reformed thinking. However, I will note that if Montgomery were steeped in Catholic thinking, this would comport with the idea that power is the opposite of love.

We all have some power over other people. Just by saying hello or ignoring someone on the street has some effect on the people we encounter. Actions that are truly loving in nature are powerful. My fellow Christians, let us conduct ourselves in such a way as to convey the love of Christ that people will be warmed to his message. That we can give the gift of the Holy Spirit who raised Christ from the dead and can resurrect the souls of those we meet.

That’s the power of love.

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