Today we will witness yet again one of the most remarkable aspects of American democracy – the peaceful transition of power. While in many other nations such transitions are anything but peaceful, here in the United States, we pride ourselves on those in power passing the baton without spite or retaliation. Granted, there are those times when staff aides will playfully tweak incoming staffers (such as the time one administrative staff removed certain keys from White House typewriters to make life difficult for the next one), but for the most part, the shifts that happen from one administration to the next take place without a lot of rancor.
What makes such transition remarkable to me is how poorly most people handle power and authority, even in American culture. In most other circles, folk in power like to throw their weight around and they handle the loss of power poorly. When most individuals make it to the top of the heap, whether it be in business circles or academic circles or (embarrassingly) religious circles, they don’t like to be brought down from their lofty perch.
It’s that last example that I find the saddest of all. You’d think that folk of faith would manage power reasonably well, but unfortunately that is not the case. In my own lifetime, I have seen far too many examples of otherwise good people acting ruthlessly and vindictively when given the opportunity to exert themselves over others they consider to be their foes. I even remember attending one denominational meeting where someone sitting next to me, when seeing that he was losing show-of-hands votes, turned to his wife and in an audible whisper saying, “We’re surrounded by the enemy.” And of course, when his side finally came to power, the results were devastating for those who were of a different persuasion.
In the years that have passed since that experience, I’ve thought a lot about power and how best to use it. I’ve learned not to trust those who say “they’re not into power.” The truth of the matter is that those are the very souls who are into it more than most. Power, like money (a major source of power), is actually neutral, neither good nor bad. It’s what we do with the power that we have that makes the difference.
So, as Christians, let’s think about those possibilities for a moment. We have access to the greatest source of power in the world, the power of the Holy Spirit. The only question is, “How will we use it?” After following all the news surrounding another peaceful transition of a presidential administration, I’m more motivated to encourage us to use whatever power we have to work for advancing the cause of Christ and bringing God’s Kingdom purposes to peace. For only then will we bring about anything that resembles lasting peace and fulfills the sole purpose for why God has empowered us with His Spirit in the first place.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).