Skip to content

But not so with you. . .

A quote for 9/11:

In his teachings and in his life Jesus stands completely opposed to all powers that victimize, to all energies of violence and rage throughout this world. He allows no ground for treating these forces as really good, to be affirmed as agents of God’s will and expressions of God’s power and, therefore, to be allowed to run their course. He sets himself against all those persons and realities which use their power to cause suffering.

The reason for this comes out very clearly in a passage in the Gospel of Luke. The disciples argue with each other about which of them is the greatest.

“And . . . [Jesus] said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For which is the greater, the one who sits at the table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.’” (Ch. 22:25-27)

In this passage Jesus sets himself in contrast to the Gentile lords in terms of his relation to human weakness and need. For the Gentile world, neediness is precisely the condition in which a man may be violated by a superior power, and a lord is one who can exercise such power. The Gentile lords stand in authority and demand submission because of their capacity to exercise violent power. They may give richly to their subjects. Nevertheless, this is what undergirds their authority, their “greatness.”

Jesus makes clear that the divine power in him vindicates is powerfulness in the face of human need in just the opposite way. It does not dominate, threaten, or impose violence; it serves. In this connection it is no accident that Jesus undertakes his mission to the poor and not to the rich, to the sinful and not to the righteous, to the weak and not to the strong, to the dying and not to those full of life. For with these vessels of need God most decisively vindicates his peculiar kind of power, his power of service whereby the poor are fed, the sinful are forgiven, the weak are strengthened, and the dying are made alive.

Therefore, in the perspective of the New Testament, what is involved in the problem of violent suffering is no incidental matter, but touches the very nature of divine power. Jesus sets himself in total opposition to all modes of violence and to every kind of powerfulness that must establish itself in the Gentile way, that is, by being able to do violence to the weak and needy. Such so-called power is not an aspect of, but rather the very opposite of God’s power. And therefore, since God alone is the author and ground of all real power, this energy of violence is not actually powerful at all. Its power is only pretension.

At the hear of the Christian faith in Jesus is the knowledge that true power belongs only to God. The distinctive mark of God’s power is service and self-giving. And in this world such power belongs only to him who serves. In light of such a faith, the Christian has no final fear before the pretentious claims of violent power.

If there is a Christian solution to the problem of suffering, therefore, it lies in such an understanding of the power of God.

~ Arthur McGill, Suffering: A Test of Theological Method, 61-63.

On a day so shamelessly used to valorize power-as-violence and to unify a people through fear, it is fitting to reflect on the true nature of God’s power. The power that serves, heals, dies, and rises again rather than anxiously grasping for control of history.


  1. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:

    Alright. I am convinced. I have to read this book.

    Friday, September 11, 2009 at 10:44 am | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    Oh yeah you do. And its companion, Death and Life: An American Theology. Incredible books. And both barely over 100 pages.

    Friday, September 11, 2009 at 10:47 am | Permalink
  3. Chris Donato wrote:

    Equally convinced. Though my sensitive ears to muddling the two kingdoms will be wary.

    Friday, September 11, 2009 at 12:30 pm | Permalink
  4. Hill wrote:

    This year I have noticed an almost nostalgic character to the 9/11 reminiscences. It’s almost as if “things were simpler back then.” Reminds me of a passage from The Moviegoer by Walker Percy:

    “…one hundred percent of people are humanists and ninety-eight percent believe in God, and men are dead, dead, dead; and the malaise has settled like a fall-out and what people really fear is not that the bomb will fall but that the bomb will not fall–on this my thirtieth birthday, I know nothing and there is nothing to do but fall prey to desire.”

    Friday, September 11, 2009 at 1:00 pm | Permalink
  5. Hill, you should’ve quoted from this epic piece:

    Friday, September 11, 2009 at 1:48 pm | Permalink
  6. Never Forget.

    Friday, September 11, 2009 at 3:18 pm | Permalink
  7. Hill wrote:

    This is hilarious in a sublime way.

    Friday, September 11, 2009 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

Switch to our mobile site