A Powerless God
CCS staff member Scott Douglas offers this musing…
At worship before our staff meeting this week we sang “Behold the Face of Christ” (More Voices #114). The chorus – “Behold the face of Christ. O Jesus Christ, O Living Christ, you rise among your people.” – alternates with read verses – “But when, Lord? When did we see you hungry and give you food to eat?” or “naked and give you clothes to wear?” or “in prison and come to visit you?” Following the song, we reflected on where we have been surprised in our faith.
This idea, of seeing the face of Christ in others, particularly in the marginalized and oppressed, is not new. But what struck me this time, in reflecting on this song based on Matthew 25:31-40, was that this is not a trick. When Jesus describes the “Son of Man”, the Human One, the Anointed, the Christ, embodiment of God, saying, “When you were there for the least of these, you were there for me,” he means it. That’s where the Christ is. It’s not a disguise a la the final scene of a Scooby Doo episode, where the poor and the suffering pull off their mask and say, “Psych! It’s me, the Christ! I’m not really poor and suffering; I was just pretending. (And I would have got away with it too if it weren’t for those meddling Christians.) Here’s your magical blessings as a prize for finding me.”
This has me thinking about power. I’m thinking about power a fair bit these days as we prepare for our upcoming social justice learning circle on “Power and Privilege” (online this January and February), where we’ll be doing social analysis and exploring the ways power operates in our world and in the church. And I’m realizing the extent to which my assumptions about God’s power are just ramped up fantastical versions of worldly power. Which ultimately leads to those same old questions of, “If you’re so powerful, why don’t you do something about this?” (Insert current injustice or calamity here.) Which leads to the same old apologetics about free will or whatever.
But what happens when we exhaust our supply of surplus capital letters and imagine that when the Almighty, the Omnipotent, the Eternal, the Divine claims to be on the side of the poor, it’s not at a safe distance, sending thoughts and prayers and adding a coloured frame to the Holy One’s social media profile? What if God is on the side of the poor and the powerless because God is poor and powerless? And if God is powerless, what does power even mean?
Like most people, I am heartbroken over the violence in and around Palestine, Israel, Ukraine, Sudan, Ethiopia, and more these days, and all the contextual violence that surrounds these conflicts. And believe me, there’s a big part of me that wishes for a Marvel superhero/cop-of-the-universe God to step in and take everyone’s weapons and put them on top of the fridge and you can’t have them back until you learn to play nice. Hard, complicated, painful, unjust situations evoke a desire for clarity and order. …And when I say “complicated”, it is and it isn’t. It seems to me there are two sides to these conflicts – those who are being murdered and bombed and threatened and displaced, and those who would use violence to further their own interests. Separating the sheeps and the goats into clearly identifiable clusters, however, gets trickier. And the long-standing political disputes and historical and current grievances are real. Still, I would like an All-powerful God to just magically fix this, thank you very much.
But I wonder if God is too busy being murdered and bombed and threatened and displaced.
To quote a Tom Waits song, “Maybe God himself [sic] is lost and needs help / maybe God is lost and needs all of our help / out upon the road to peace.”
Do you want to spend some time with an online learning community exploring the nature of power and reflecting on your own place in the systems that impact the world? Take SJ02 Power and Privilege as a continuing studies student.