Meditations on Power

This is probably just going to be a prolegomena (only without a larger work to follow it). I’m going to preface this by saying that my interest in this topic comes from the fact that I’ve been doing a lot of self-examination lately. I’ve found that at the bottom of many of my own sinful desires lies a desire for power. It manifests itself in different ways, but there’s always a nagging sense of questions that lead toward the direction of power. That last sentence probably doesn’t make much sense, but let’s get started by defining power.

I think it’s easier to first define what power isn’t. Power is not a synonym for control or strength or status. Obviously, the word can be used as synonyms for those things, because words have semantic ranges. For example, when you say someone is powerful after watching them lift a lot of weight, what you’re really meaning is that that person is very strong. That is not the type of power that I’m referring to. I’m also not referring to political power, which can be thought of as the level of ability someone has to exert their will within the political sphere (top of my head definition). That comes closer to what I’m talking about, but political position or prestige is always granted by another. You’re either voted into the position, or you inherit the position by your birth, or you lead a revolution in which the winning army lands you in the position. In other words, it may be designated power, but it’s not self-originating power. That seems to be the desire, at bottom. To have self-originating power.

As I was thinking through the various aspects or temptations for which power was the root, I began to try and use thought experiments to push things as far as they could go. Power seems to be intangible, and it defies accurate definition. You can quantify control, and you can quantify influence, but the desire for power seems to supersede those things. To me, it seems like even if you had all the control you could possibly want (think of what Solomon had/could do), you still wouldn’t have reached the “goal” of power.

Which leads me into thinking that power cannot be an end in itself, even while the pull toward it is as if it was. As many sinful things do, the allure of power teases satisfaction, but even when I pushed the thought experiments to their limits, the goal was not attained. No matter how many people under your control or what things you’re able to make them do; no matter how many things can be acquired at your command, the desire for “more” does not subside.

If it is true that it’s intangible, what sort of thing might it be? It does not seem to be a state of mind, since it is conceivable that you can have nothing which might construe the having of power, yet have a state of mind such that you believe yourself to be powerful. To borrow language from Aquinas, it would seem to be that power is (so far as we can obtain it) pure potentiality. It seems that we would know what to do with power, were we to be able to acquire it. This could be delusional, but it almost seems intuitive. Perhaps this is merely my personal opinion, due to the watching of a lot of anime as a kid leading me to believe (in an Eastern sense) that power was a sort of inner-strength, which could be used to produce beams of energy (I’m looking at you, DBZ). If all “power” that we can achieve in this life is derivative in some way, that means that either power is an illusion that we attach to things to make ourselves feel better, or it means that there must be a source of power (if you go back the causal chain far enough) that is unchanging. The only quality I’ve been able to attach to power is that it has to be self-originating

I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to say that if power is self-originating, then the being having that would be all-powerful. Omnipotence is one of the classic attributes of God. The Bible frequently grounds power in the being of God. In other words, my sinful desire is rooted in the desire to be God. It would seem that there is nothing new under the sun. This is why I need to constantly preach the gospel to myself, and work to mortify my flesh, every day.

Pray for me toward that end.


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