power

Might

Croagh-Patrick.jpg

I arise today...
Through God’s might to uphold me...

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)

Surely God is my help;
the Lord is the one who sustains me.

- Psalm 54:4

I’ll be honest, this image of God is more challenging for me than it probably should be.

Human history has been plagued with the idea that “might makes right” and those in power are often the ones who will do almost anything to get there, no matter who they hurt or walk over in the process. As Lord Acton writes, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

I remember children’s songs in church like “What a mighty God we serve,” or “My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do.” On one hand the idea that God is mightier and more powerful than any enemy we may face can be comforting, that is, so long as God is on our side. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine absolute power that does not corrupt. Such power and might, unchecked, is indeed a frightening thought.

In Revelation 15:4, the saints of God sing out the song of Moses saying,

Who won’t fear you, Lord, and glorify your name? You alone are holy. All nations will come and fall down in worship before you,for your acts of justice have been revealed.”

Who would not fear the Lord, indeed. “The Lord, strong and mighty. The Lord mighty in battle” (Psalm 24:8). The King of Glory is King of Kings and Lord of Lords and no power or nation shall stand against him.

Such imagery, though absolutely true, gives me pause. History has shown us time and time again that absolute power cannot go unchecked. It is dangerous. And yet we know God has no equal. Nothing can stand against the Lord.

But we also find comfort throughout the scripture that God’s might is perfectly balanced by God’s love. We find the story in Genesis 18:16-33 where Abraham pleads with God on behalf of the people and God promises to relent for the sake of even 10 righteous people in city. Regardless of the final outcome, God demonstrates to Abraham that he is not some cosmic heartless monster out to destroy the world as so many other gods throughout history have been portrayed.

The difference between the all-powerful God of Scripture and so many other gods throughout ancient mythology is that the God of Scripture is Love. By his very nature, God cannot exercise power and might in any way that does not reflect his loving character.

Nearly every encounter a person has with God in Scripture pans out the same way. Consider the stories of Isaiah, Peter, Paul, and John in Revelation, among others. The person is overwhelmed by God’s holiness, often falling down on their face as though dead. God’s first words in such terrifying moments almost always include the statement, “Do not fear.”

In Isaiah 41, we find God’s encouragement to Israel.

“You are my servant;
I chose you and didn’t reject you”:
Don’t fear, because I am with you;
don’t be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
I will surely help you;
I will hold you
with my righteous strong hand.

- Isaiah 41:9b-10

God’s might, rather than striking terror into our hearts, should fill us with hope and courage because God promises to uphold us in his righteous strong hand. Because of God’s might, we truly have nothing to fear.

Yet we must be careful, for unlike God, our sense of power often does lead to corruption. Centuries of ugly and violent religious history have shown us how easily we humans distort the power and might of God into a threat against our enemies, justifying countless wars in God’s name and condemning all who disagree with us to the fires of hell. We must remember Jesus’ call to love our enemies, and that God desires no one to perish but for all to come to repentance (Matthew 5:43-48, John 3:16). We must not try to manipulate God’s might for our own purposes. Our enemies are not God’s enemies, for even they are beloved and bear the image of God, their Creator.

God’s might will uphold us, but God’s love must prevent us from using his might to tear others down. Perhaps the mightiest act God ever demonstrated was the restraint he showed on the cross when he refused to send down his angel armies to destroy those who crucified his son. Might is not the power to tear down or lord over others. The greatest might of all is the power to sacrifice everything for the sake of love.

Reflections:

1. What is your gut reaction to the thought of a “Mighty God”?

2. In what ways have you experienced God’s might upholding you throughout your life?

3. How do you see God’s power at work in sacrificial acts of love? How might God be calling you to use His power in that way?


Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

... I arise today,
Through God’s wisdom to guide me…

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer