The Bible speaks of “principalities and powers” and their kin taking two forms. 1) They exist as the supra-personal powers that live in the “heavenlies” or “airy spaces” that exist between heaven and earth. 2) They also exist in concrete historical form. In the New Testament, Rome was a power, so was the Temple, so was Pilate, and, of course, so was the kingdom of God preached by Jesus and the prophets. The late William Stringfellow a Washington attorney defined the powers as:
“…all authorities, governments, corporations, institutions, traditions, processes, structures, bureaucracies, ideologies, systems, sciences, and the like.”
Some people dismiss the powers as purely mythical, and this allows them free reign over those persons. That the powers are purely myth is a lie fostered by the “father of lies,” aka “the prince of the power of the air.”
Others people dismiss the powers as purely evil, and this is equally unfortunate. According to the book of Colossians, the principalities and powers were “created in Christ,” and thus have tremendous potential for good. The power of human collectives to do good is hard to overestimate. We are always stronger, smarter, and more adaptive when we work together.
The powers can be quite visible and power-full. Or they can be quite low-key and subtle. People say that racism is all about economics and social standing. I don’t think so. Though my dad went to college following his service in WWII, I come from a predominantly blue-collar family. Yet, I do not remember any overt racism in my family. Indeed, my relatives that worked at RJR Tobacco Co. were sharing meals with black friends in the company’s lunchrooms long before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and their positive attitudes about race affected our whole family. Oh, we have some guilt, but our guilt was and is the guilt of failing to speak and act. We were among those white Christians who disappointed Martin Luther King, Jr. by not coming to the aid of the Movement. We thought of ourselves as “good Christians.” How then did we fail to recognize the prophetic voice of the herald? I suppose we failed to “discern the spirits.” Ouch!
Of course, some of my family’s silence and inaction can be attributed to an unthinking loyalty to our own, and a desire not to rock the boat. We knew we did not want to call attention to ourselves. We did not know that we were unconsciously fearful of confronting the darker side of the powers. You see, though the powers possess great potential for good, the powers, like people, exist in a world that is sick with selfishness and sin. Thus the powers serve evil as readily as they serve good. They do this much more easily than individual people do. This simple truth helps to explain phenomena like “mob violence.” Good people, who, acting individually, would never hurt anyone by word or deed, can hurt many people and inflict death on some when they get swept up in the movement of an angry mob. Here is another sobering thought: Though directly created by human beings, principalities and powers and the like survive long after those individuals who created them have passed into dust, or, as I believe, to stand before the judgment of God. Thus the Nazis party outlasted Hitler, and racism in America survives long after the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil Rights Acts of 1964.
As a follower of Jesus Christ, albeit a poor one, I have a hope. My hope is that we might learn afresh that love is the one true power. That is why the cross of Christ towers over all the failed empires and ideologies of history. It matters not if one is a believer or an unbeliever; in every age the cross is a symbol of hope for those who are brave enough to run against the mob, and pick up a cross of their own, even a little one. Likewise, the cross reminds us that in persecuting our brothers and sisters who are different from us are also persecuting him who “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…and was wounded for our transgressions.” As Jesus himself said, “If you did it, or did it not, to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it, or did it not, to me.”
As I said, I don’t believe that racism is all about economics and class. However, I would be remiss if I did not point out that Jesus himself positioned Mammon (wealth, money) as the power that is often in most direct completion with God. He said in no uncertain terms:
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
Money can be a very good thing, when it serves us. When we serve it, and place it in the first place in making every decision, it is anything but good.
I have said enough. It is a confession, really. It is a confession on my part because, at 70, I now know that if we are not a part of the solution, we are a part of the problem. That is God’s truth, and I feel it as much as know it, because the Living One has convicted me of it. I am no prophet, but I am a preacher, and I know that he is the one thing worth preaching, and I know beyond doubt that he suffers still, and will to the end of time. He suffers the suffering of unrequited love, and he suffers when those he called his brothers and sisters suffer. He wept over Jerusalem. I assume he weeps for us all, and will continue to do so until we discover that in neglecting the needs of others, we are neglecting him, and, of course, ultimate, we are neglecting our own needs too. It was a wise woman who said, “There is one well from which to drink. If we poison it against others, where will we find water for ourselves?”
Readers may post this anywhere they like.
As we seek to do his will, may God bless us all– our church, our city, our nations, our world.
Worth Green, Pastor
Fries Memorial Moravian Church