The Jockeying Has Begun for 2024
By JIM NICHOLS
It seems as if the political season never ends in our country. We just had a presidential election and already the 2024 hopefuls are beginning to make a case for themselves. Assuming that some of these individuals are nice and capable people, it is already tiring to see them make plays for what some might consider the most powerful human position in the world. It appears campaigning brings out the best/worst in braggadocio. The prospective candidates never really say it outright, but for those of us watching it is clear this is a search for power; that power may be destructive or creative.
When instructing students on how to be effective in their educational tasks, one of the clear suggestions is to pay attention to what topics or ideas surface frequently from this teacher. That is, each instructor views the material through a rather small lens of what is really important; over time, an observing student can identify these major points. Successful students learn to tune in to the emphases of the teacher.
This pattern of learning is also apparent in scripture. Among the many important teachings of the Bible are a few that seem to appear repeatedly.
A limited number of events occur in all four of the gospels; one of them involves a debate among the disciples closest to Jesus. Cutting through the other detail, the followers are bickering about “who will be the greatest in the kingdom of God” when Jesus finally becomes ruler. Admitting the disciples’ fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of the “kingdom of God” and Jesus’ role in it, the followers look quite familiar to each of us. They see an opportunity for power, and they want to be in on it.
We should not miss the importance of this story being repeated; there must be something for us that we are supposed to hear.
Jesus did not choose to give a specific moral instruction on every aspect of life. Instead, he called us into a moral life in which our decisions are to be illuminated by the gospel. In this case, we are being called to use power without serving power; it is a trap we must avoid.
Adam and Eve sought power and we humans have emulated that throughout history. In the past and today we do not have to look far to see the potentially destructive effects of power. Governments seek power; companies seek power; individuals seek power. Competition depends on seeking power for its existence. No doubt the disciples’ arguments about power undermined their harmony and established a layer of suspicion for the future.
Institutions are not neutral or sterile entities with reference to power. As a modern example, it seems to me that proponents of Critical Race Theory are correctly identifying the power of historical, pervasive racism in the United States that has been manifest in government, industries, education, and society in general. As with the disciples, this has led to discord and distrust that is racially felt.
Just as there is a power that destroys, however, there is a power that creates. The facets of creative power are equally numerous. This is a power that leads to reconciliation; it leads to the good of all, restoring relationships and liberating minds and opportunities. It is a power that seeks to give life, joy, and peace. This is the power of Jesus’ ministry, and we should not miss the statement of Jesus when he says, “. . . the one who follows me will do even greater works than these, because I go to the Father.” (John 14.12). I take this to identify the influence of the Holy Spirit in Christ’s followers.
Destructive power is connected to pride; creative power is connected to service. Oddly enough, creative power is sometimes interpreted by the world as weakness. Jesus’ submission to death hardly looks like power until we see the fruits it bore. We are probably not facing crucifixion, but the teaching is still for us; the apostle Paul notes that “when I am weak, I am strong.”
As we watch candidates for any role jockey for position, perhaps we should be asking two questions. (1) In what ways does this candidate display destructive power? (2) In what ways does this candidate display creative power?
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current hospice chaplain