Let us imagine that there was a button on a pedestal in a room. (The button could be a bright and shiny red button for fans of Ren and Stimpy.) Pressing this button would give you eternal life and absolute power. And when I say absolute power, I mean “Superman is a wimp” power. Destroy the planet? Child’s play. Snuff out the sun? With the merest thought. Destroy a galaxy? Not a problem. Eternal life and absolute power all yours at the press of a button. The button will only work for one person. Would you press the button? Would you let someone else press the button?
As I go back over my life and the people who have had power over me, I can easily see that I wouldn’t let anyone else press the button. How many times have I plead with someone who had power over me hoping for understanding in a tough spot only to have that person “stick to their guns” and insist that their way was the only way? Let me count the ways.
I remember as a young child my father’s criticism. “By the time I was your age,” he said to me, “I had read one thousand books and started my own gardening business. I had kids all over the neighborhood organized into teams and I was making money hand over fist.” As to the first accusation, nobody else has ever criticized me for not reading enough and as to the second our circumstances were slightly different.
My father grew up in 1950’s Buffalo during one of the greatest economic expansions in human history when the United States produced an unprecedented fraction of the world’s manufactured goods. I grew up in the early 80’s during an economic slump in San Diego living about 20 miles from the Mexican border. Any teenager wanting a gardening job or a paper route had to compete with able-bodied and hard working Mexican adults who were willing to do a better job for peanuts. My father was a Harvard graduate with enormous business experience and he loved me a great deal, but he criticized me for years without ever once thinking that our circumstances might be different enough to warrant some compassion. Let him press the button? I would simply die first.
I have had a few bosses who knew absolutely nothing about computer programming, but did not let this lack of knowledge stop them from making unreasonable demands. I remember begging my first boss to give me permission to rewrite a section of code because it was too much tangled spaghetti for me to work with otherwise. He denied me permission and for six months I slogged it out and tried to write the code his way. Finally he was so frustrated at my lack of progress that he brought in an expert with 15 years of programming experience. The verdict? The code was unusable and had to be completely rewritten. Let him press the button? Not a chance.
Probably the worst offenders in terms of abusing power over me were the young women who have had power over me by virtue of my attraction to them. In a nutshell, my experience is that I put my heart in their hands by mustering up the courage to ask them out and got the gore of tiny little heart chunks splattered all over me for my trouble. Let one of them press the button? What do you think?
Looking over my experiences with other people, it is fairly easy for me to see that I would pay any price to prevent one of you people from pressing the button. Yes you are certain that you are good and understanding and loving, but those of us who are not you are not so sure about your perfect benevolence. The harder question is should I press the button myself?
Now when I ask this question, the lure of solipsism is overwhelming. Yes you people are brutal and unreasonable and insist on your own way and never admit a mistake, but I am not like you. I scrupulously scan my life for error and I am very much smarter than the average bear. Surely I am good enough to press the button?
There is a beautiful scene in Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring where Ian Mckellan’s Gandalf says, “Don’t tempt me Frodo! I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe.” and rejects the evil Ring of Power. As a Christian who recognizes the sinful behavior of my past and present, put me in the camp of Gandalf and Galadriel. I am not good enough to press the button and I would not.
So I would not press the button and I would not allow anyone else to press the button without my most strenuous resistance, but let us imagine that the button has been pressed. An omnipotent being with limited knowledge, understanding, compassion and love is now rampaging around the universe with absolute power. Can we imagine what it would be like living with such a being? How could you tell such a being that he or she was wrong? You would go to that being and you would make your case. “Look, I know that no power or force that we could use could compel you to do what is right and we approach you with the most sincere honesty and humility. I know that you think you are being kind and generous and loving and good, but you are actually hurting us a great deal. Would you please stop what you are doing and behave in this way and not the way you have done previously?”
There are two possible outcomes to this scenario:
- “You are right. I have done wrongly and injured others through my thoughtless behavior judging them by my standards and not having any compassion for them. I will change my ways immediately and do better.”
- “Who do you think you are? Do you not know that I am all powerful? I can crack the earth with a word and destroy entire galaxies! And I have been so good to you and you little ingrates do nothing but question, nothing but complain. I will give you something to complain about!”
When I consider my previous petitions to those with power over me when I suggested that they were wrong and needed to change their mind and their ways, I cannot be optimistic about the success of such a petition. In fact, the response that I have most often seen to such a scenario is what the Bible would call a “hardening of the heart” that makes the person all the more determined to do things their own way and force it to work. Unfortunately, in my experience most people would think that they would respond in the first way but would actually respond in the second way.
In a previous essay, I said that I would discuss the issue of why faith in God was essential. To understand why that is the case, we need to understand the extra-ordinary offer that is being made to us in the gospel.
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears,[a] we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)
for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. (Romans 11:29)
Jesus Christ is God and he created all of the stars and galaxies and he will roll them up like a scroll when the world ends. When God says that we will be “joint heirs of Christ” (Romans 8:17), God is saying that we will have powers and abilities that make Superman look like a wimp. As we have already seen, the abuse of such powers and abilities would make all creation an unlivable and horrific hell. How can God make sure that this does not happen? He needs to know that the people who receive this gift will respond to a loving rebuke with repentance and humility as outlined in option number 1 above.
In this life, God comes to you in your court where you are the judge and the jury. Through your conscience and your knowledge of the damage you have done to others, He presents His case that you are not good enough to be trusted with eternal life and absolute power. He offers you forgiveness, assistance and guidance if you will accept your need for the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. What is your verdict?
- Lord I do not deserve eternal life and I am not worthy of absolute power. I need Your help and Your guidance to live my life and I accept the offer of forgiveness that You have made to me in Jesus Christ.
- I am good enough without Your help and I don’t need Your love or Your forgiveness. I am worthy of eternal life and absolute power and I would press the button without hesitation or fear.
These three questions are strongly related. If you are worthy of pressing the button and if nobody can dare tell you that you are wrong or have done evil in your life and if you do not accept your need for Jesus Christ, then you cannot be entrusted with God’s gifts. If you are unworthy to press the button and if you need help in understanding what is right and acting with love toward others and if you need the forgiveness and grace of Jesus Christ, then God can work with you and help you to be something beyond what we can now imagine. This is why faith in Christ is essential. In order to be what God wants you to be, you must acknowledge your need for divine love and forgiveness.
Because of the greatness of Thy power, Thine enemies will give feigned obedience to Thee. (Psalm 66:3)
Those who hate the LORD would pretend obedience to Him. (Psalm 81:15)