Tag Archives: Tim Keller

The two sides of Power

In staff meeting today we listened to a Tim Keller sermon on political power (I wonder how many private practice psychology staff meetings do something neat like this!) from the text of Jesus conversations with Pilate. In talking about political power, Keller quoted Vaclav Havel on the topic. You can find Havel’s quote herewithin a speech he made after receiving the Sonning Prize in 1991. This speech was designed to answer these two questions:

“Why is it that people long for political power, and why, when they have achieved it, are they so reluctant to give it up?” 

I don’t have it exactly as either Keller or Havel said it, but both were making this point:

1. We want to use power in the service of all that is true, good, and right. We want to use power to better the world. While some may use power from the get-go for evil purposes, most do not.

2. But we also wan to use power in the service of self. Havel talks about use of power for self-affirmation. Self-affirmation, Havel says, is not “essentially reprehensible” but human. But without suspicious self-examination, a slippage happens–something like this, it makes sense that my important work means I get special privileges in order to do my work well. But then I begin to lose the difference between being enabled to do my job better and the self-affirmation that I so desperately crave.”

Regardless of how pure his intentions may originally have been, it takes a high degree of self-awareness and critical distance for someone in power–however well-meaning at the start–to recognize that moment [when we stop caring about the state and start only caring about self-affirmation]

I see similarities outside of power. When I counsel someone long silenced through abuse and neglect, I see someone who is readily aware of the impact of abuse of power. When that person develops their voice, they begin to exert power for the sake of truth, goodness, and all that is right. They say no to further abuse; they raise their voice so as to be heard. They learn to use power to draw proper boundaries. But like all, it is easy to use the power for self-affirmation and self-protection. It is easy to argue for its goodness and rightness and to become blind to the demanding side of self-affirmation.

Power is good, but humans with power must be vigilant to avoid the corruption. Vaclav Havel recognizes the need to stay vigilant. John Adams recognized the inherent corruption of power as he designed the separation of powers for the USA. And we look to Jesus who willingly gives up his right to power but uses his power to sacrifice himself for our sake.

Good to think about in this season of elections. Pray we have leaders who will question their tendency to self-affirmation. And pray that each of us uses power for justice and not for self alone.


Filed under Abuse, Cultural Anthropology, Great Quotes, News and politics, self-deception

God’s problem? Can we Christians sufficiently answer why we suffer?

I heard a great interview on “Fresh Air” with author Bart Erhman, professor of religion from UNC regarding his new book: God’s problem: How the Bible fails to answer our most important question–why we suffer. While I completely disagree with his conclusions, you have to admit this guy talks much about the bible in ways we evangelicals would. But he draws opposite conclusions. Listen here.

Dr. Ehrman is an interesting character: becomes born again at 16, is part of Youth for Christ, attends Moody Bible Institute, and gets his doctor of theology at Princeton Seminary. However, he now says he is agnostic. Why? He sees no satisfactory answer to the problem of suffering. In the interview he describes three common Christian answers, all based in the text. The classic answer says that we suffer because of human choices. There are variations of this view. Simply put, the righteous are blessed and the unrighteous will suffer. Dr. Ehrman points to the OT prophets for this view. He finds this unsatisfactory because it doesn’t answer the problem of what causes Tsunamis. [He doesn’t address in this interview how he handles the argument that while suffering may not come in a 1:1 correlation (sin:suffering), no one is righteous and no one gets to say, “not fair.”] He describes a second view as God is mysterious and doesn’t have to answer (e.g., Job). Finally, he describes Jesus’ view as an apocalyptic view suggesting that suffering is caused by principalities and powers which will be defeated at the end times.

Two questions I’d like to ask Dr. Ehrman:

1. Since agnosticism doesn’t claim a full answer to why there is suffering (or why we should do anything to stop it as Dr. Ehrman believes) why does faith in God have to answer it as well? Since one view allows for mystery, why can’t God not clarify every answer?
2. He sees God putting his thumb on Job and squishing him with his final question to Job. “Were you there when I created the universe.” I guess he sees God’s answer as, “then, shut up.” But is that really the message of Job? If it was, why does God not take Job to task in the 40 or so chapters where he rants and raves?

 Dr. Ehrman likes the book of Ecclesiastes. He likes it because he thinks the answer in it is, “live as best you can.” I think Dr. Ehrman needs to re-read the book because it says, “fear God, and live as best you can.” (Phil’s translation)

 I encourage you to listen to the interview. Then afterwards, try Tim Keller’s new book, The Reason for God: Belief in the age of Skepticism. In answer to my title? Can we answer sufficiently? Yes. Can we answer all that we wish we could know? No. But funny, learning what we wish we could know might not be so good (like learning the day you are going to die).


Filed under Christian Apologetics, suffering