Today’s extract from Losing the Fig Leaf continues our look at the ‘tree’ of Power. Tomorrow (Thursday 1st October) is launch day!
Scientia potentia est
‘Knowledge is power’, as Sir Francis Bacon is alleged to have said. And the book of Proverbs says:
The wise prevail through great power, and those who have knowledge muster their strength.
Proverbs 24:5 (NIV UK)
Knowledge is believed to give us advantages over others. A good education is considered to give children the best possible start in life and to maximise their opportunities for a good job and career prospects. We use information to our advantage – whether through ‘the system’ by passing exams and gaining qualifications, or by using what we know to influence situations and work them to our own ends.
Adam and Eve were tempted by the power of knowledge when the serpent said to them, ‘your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’ (Genesis 3:5). At the time, they probably had no concept of what ‘good’ and ‘evil’ even were, although they were fully aware of what they had been told not to do. They knew that God knew everything, and they knew that God had ultimate power, so I guess it stood to reason that if they had the knowledge that God had, it would give them more power. And the temptation was too hard to resist.
But it all went horribly wrong. Yes, they received the desired knowledge, but, as we saw earlier, they were unable to cope with it – as God had known all along. This new knowledge didn’t actually give them any more power, and they would now have to fight to regain even some of the authority that they had originally been given. They had been tasked with working and stewarding the earth in a loving, nurturing relationship, but now, as well as having to leave the paradise garden, they would have to struggle and sweat even just to source their basic needs.
All through history, humanity has fought and struggled with the earth to bring it under control. Long gone is the harmonious relationship we had with the earth at the time of creation. We are realising now that we have to respect the earth and give back to it, not bleed it dry of its resources and upset its natural balance, otherwise the human race will be in a lot of trouble in years to come.
Our natural tendency as human beings is to try to take control, especially when things are not going the way we would like them to. When they are not going our way, we can almost resort to dictator-like tendencies to try to get our own way and regain that control. What we must be aware of, of course, is our motivation. Am I wanting to exert control just because things aren’t going the way I want them to? Is what I want really the best thing for everyone concerned? Is it the best possible solution? We need to work out what the real problem is, and then work out the best way forward – for everyone concerned; not just for ourselves.
Who am I?
We often identify ourselves by what we ‘do’. When we meet someone for the first time, how do we introduce ourselves? Presumably we will tell each other our name; then, as often as not, we will chat about what we do – our job, perhaps an ability we have (whether we are a musician, an artist, a footballer, and so on), or perhaps a ministry we are involved in. We feel that what we do gives us status and influence; it defines who we are. If I have an ‘important’ job, that makes me an important person, therefore people will listen to me – I will have authority and power. If I have an important ministry, that means I must be a spiritual person with lots of knowledge and wisdom, so people will look up to me and respect me. Consciously or subconsciously, we think that what we do makes us who we are.
Years ago, a person’s surname would help to identify who they were and offer information about them and their family. Many surnames told what people did for a living – Smith, Wright, Carpenter, Butcher, Baker, and so on. In Scotland and Ireland, boys would have the prefix Mac (or Mc) or O’ to their surname, followed by their father’s name, to indicate which family they belonged to. Some names would have been given to describe particular characteristics, such as Strong, Wise, or Black or White to describe hair colour. Indeed, a number of biblical characters were given new names by God, to go with their new role or responsibility: Abraham, Israel, Peter and Saul, for example. Other names told where people came from. Our own surname, Copeland, comes from Copeland in Cumbria, and I understand the name comes from the Old Norse kaupland, meaning ‘bought land’. I must pay the place a visit sometime.
Nowadays, of course, our names give no clue as to what we do for a living, or about our characteristics or where we come from. We might give nicknames, though, appropriate to personality traits or looks. When my daughter was little, I sometimes called her Boo, because she looked just like the little girl out of the film Monsters, Inc., with her big brown eyes and her dark hair in cute bunches.
Names and job titles, though, tell us very little about who a person really is. We might learn which family someone comes from and what they do for a living, but they tell us nothing about the person’s character and personality. Certain names or titles might command respect – people might speak differently to a minister or a priest, for example – and how would we respond if we were to meet royalty? But these are just external trappings – they don’t tell us who the person is in the eyes of God. In the eyes of God, all people are equal. He loves each and every person the same, and God takes no notice of job titles.
Many years ago I had the opportunity to meet His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. I was managing a stand at a ‘Britain in Morocco’ exhibition in Casablanca for the company I was working for, and he came to visit the exhibition. I remember having quite conflicting feelings about it: I was nervous because he is an important man, yet there was also a part of me that was telling me he is no different from anyone else – he just happens to have a title because of the family he was born into. I also remember wrestling with the fact that I was told I would have to bow or curtsey. Apart from the fact I didn’t even know how to curtsey (I am not blessed with such ladylike graces!), it didn’t sit comfortably with me that I should bow to another human being, when the only one to whom I want to bow the knee is God Himself.
In the end, I think I managed some kind of fudged combination of a bow, curtsey and handshake all rolled into one. I don’t think His Royal Highness was particularly impressed.
This does lead me to consider, though, how people in positions of authority might use the power they are given, whether they are born into or it or elected to the role. The kings in the Old Testament were a real mixed bag: some used the power they had very wisely and led the people of Israel in the way God had ordained; others chose to walk a very different path.
Two particular examples are King Saul and King David. Both were anointed by God to lead the people of Israel, both were given great responsibility, and both made huge mistakes. The difference, however, was in the way they dealt with these mistakes. Saul took things into his own hands when things didn’t turn out in the way he had expected, and blatantly disobeyed a clear instruction from God (1 Samuel 13:11-14; 1 Samuel 15:1-10). So God rejected him as king.
David also abused the power he had, by committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband killed so that he could take her for himself (2 Samuel 11). God sent the prophet Nathan to David to make him realise that he had done a terrible thing, and that God was displeased with him. David acknowledged that he had done a dreadful thing and confessed his sin to God, and God forgave him. There were consequences for David of his sin, however, and those consequences affected other people as well. David and all concerned had to come to terms with those consequences.
Yet Saul, too, repented and asked for forgiveness (1 Samuel 15:24-25). So why did God reject Saul as king and continue to bless David’s kingship? 1 Samuel 16:7 tells us that ‘the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’. I can only assume that as God looked at the hearts of Saul and David as they repented and confessed their sin, He saw in David true penitence and a willingness to humble himself and to change, and an earnest desire to be obedient to Him, but did not see the same humility and earnestness in the heart of Saul. So in spite of David’s sinfulness, and even though he continued to make mistakes, David’s heart continued to be after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14), and God was able to use him greatly.
Losing the Fig Leaf by Nicki Copeland will be published by Instant Apostle on Thursday 1st October 2015 and is available from Christian retailers and online sellers. Pre-order from Amazon in print or on Kindle here.