|Deep within the heart of every human being is the longing for significance, to have a meaningful destiny. It is the yearning to be taken seriously, to make some sort of difference, to have a life that matters somehow. The aching desire in the soul to be recognized, to be deemed important is a dominant factor for most of us. This is often expressed in a strong desire to exercise power in our life situation. We have an intense motivation to control the environment around us, to influence our circumstances for the better, at least “better” as far as we are concerned. Termed by some students of human nature as “the drive to power,” this desire can be found anywhere from the nursery school to the boardroom, from the playground to the professional sports arena. It’s a desire that pays no attention to gender or age, and gives little heed to personality styles or economic standing. The simple, easily observable fact is that from the time we are toddlers we want to have things our way, to control the situations around us for our benefit, and be able to tell somebody – anybody! – what to do.
As obvious as this “drive to power” is in the human soul, it is just as apparent that most people live with this desire frustrated and squelched, at least to some degree. Hemmed in by life situations completely beyond our control, we do the best we can “under the circumstances.” We fight for recognition, striving to be seen as valuable. We hope that someone will notice that we have important things to say and that we too have a destiny that deserves to be realized. Many of us have experienced such devastating blows to our identity that any hope of feeling significant or powerful is simply unrealistic. Any hope of significance seems like a wispy dream in the violent storm of real life. Some respond to these cataclysmic blows by setting their body, soul, mind and strength to the pursuit of power, determined to never be hurt again. Others simply roll over and die, with any potential for significance stripped from them and crushed in the trampling of other people’s lusts.
At the same time that we feel this longing to have power and influence, we feel a certain ambivalence about it, a double-mindedness that tells us that such things as “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It’s as though the human race has this negative condition that is common to everyone, a condition that we cannot deny or live without, yet one that is so toxic that corruption is the inevitable end to the pursuit of power. Therefore, we try to build all sorts of checks and balances into our systems of control. We strive to protect ourselves against the corruption of the drive to power, only to find ourselves manipulating and evading the very systems we set in place so that we might gain more influence or have more control over our situations. In other words, we cheat if we think it will help us.
We could cite thousands of examples of dishonest and abusive behavior taken from every strata of human life. It’s not only the politically or economically powerful person who grasps for more power. It’s the pastor who abuses his spiritual authority to raise money. It’s the guy who cheats at golf, or the woman who crosses the line in using her sexuality to gain an advantage over the competition. It’s the road-rage nut who guns the engine to pass everyone he can, and it’s the teen-age girl with an eating disorder resolutely controlling her food intake, even though her strategy for power may eventually kill her. The drive to power is immense within us, and is a reality that must be examined and understood from God’s perspective if we are to deal with it successfully.
Over the next weeks, I will explore the only appropriate way to pursue power and fulfillment, the way given to us through Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5. I hope you’ll follow along!