Tuesday, December 17, 2013

On Strength (Homily Magnus)

"Be thou exalted, Lord, in Thine own strength. So we will sing and praise Thy power." Ps. 21:13

The babe with the power!
The modern western world is obsessed with power. From our most intellectual blather to our most common jargon, we've got power on the brains. In literary circles, we're concerned with characters having "agency," the ability to make their own choices and choose their own destiny. In the world of pop psychology, we endlessly seek "empower- ment," an affirmation and enabling of our own self and desires. Popular culture regularly feeds into our need for self-actualization, and in the revolving-door insane asylum of social and political activism, power is the key agenda: who has it, how they're abusing it, and how we can acquire more for ourselves and others.

"Come at me, bro."
It feels cheap and easy to lay this particular mania at the feet of Nietzsche, but I cannot help it. He is too obvious a target, as he would prefer. No doubt he had his inspirations, and he has definitely inspired others who carried his ideas further and further, but if you observe all the assumptions of our postmodern society and reduce them back to their source, you get Nietzsche. He was the voice crying in the wilderness, the first step in a new direction. It is he who successfully reduced all of life to power, to dominance and submission, to masters and slaves, to supermen and sheep. It is he who declared (ironically) that all language is the myriad masks of power, and it is his postmodern disciples of the mid to late 20th century that stretched his ideas all the way into popular consciousness. Now there is no truth; there is only power, and all claims on truth are merely disguised plays at power. There is nothing left for us but the destruction of all the "truths" and then the mad scramble for power that pours out of them like candy from a sad, shattered pinata.

There can be only one.
It is no wonder that Nietzsche (and everyone poisoned by his epistemological children) hated Christianity. It is a great rebuke to his worldview of power, for not only will the meek inherit the earth, but also all-power already belongs to One. Forever and endlessly belongs to One. God has all the power, for He is all the power. He infinitely is it and has it and gives it to all without once diminishing His surplus. Before Him, the mad scramble for power and the mad cycle of dominance and submission end. There is only one Power, and it is God. Likewise, there is only one dominance, and that is His. And there is only one submission, and that is ours. The superman already exists, has always existed. He is God incomprehensible, the Father Almighty.

All of Him, all at once.
Yet it is not mere power that makes God incomprehensible, but rather all of His divine attributes at once. He brings all of Himself to bear on every action that He takes, and included in Himself is not only infinite power but also infinite love and justice and grace and wisdom and goodness. Perhaps the greatest rebuke to the Nietzschean ethic is God's irreducibility: His incomprehensible nature is not a complexion of parts but rather a single, harmonious whole with every attribute working in perfect interwoven tandem and solidarity. Thus, His all-power can only come prepackaged with His all-love and all-wisdom and all-goodness and everything else that He infinitely is.

Think of it this way. We know what it means to leave a part of ourselves behind when we make a decision. We leave a part of ourselves "at the door," so to speak. There are times when we make a solely emotional decision (with our children or loved ones), where we leave logic and reason and other factors behind. On the other hand, we can with effort make solely logical decisions, blocking out emotional elements and trying to make a cold, rational choice. In either case, something is left out. This is not necessarily the best or worst way to make decisions, but it is a way we are familiar with, because it is true to who we are: we are not like God. We are not a harmonious whole of attributes; He is. He never leaves any of Himself "at the door." He brings all that He is into every action He makes, for He cannot be reduced to any one part of Himself. That is what is meant by His "irreducibility."

Portrait of the superman.
Every heresy and error of man can be traced to a reduction of God (or the ultimate "thing"). Every crazed philosopher or good natured guru has made the same mistake, though they make it in a myriad of ways. Reduce all to peace, and you create a rabid pacifism that would allow horrific injustices to occur just to keep its hands clean. Reduce all to power, and you unleash a world of merciless narcissism, cruelty, and brutality. God is a slap in the face to all our nonsense, the spitting in the eye of our reductionistic insanities. He will not be reduced to our minimalist understanding. He will not be confined by our finite categories. He will be Himself and nothing less. His peace will not rest until it has broken every peace-breaker, and His power wrought its most awesome work in a poor carpenter from Nazareth who would not revile when He was reviled, and whose humiliating submission to death crushed the power of death forever, for the weakness of God is still stronger than the strength of supermen.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013


  1. Thanks for this. It reminds me of a Luther quote:"The old Adam in us is to be drowned by daily contrition and repentance, and is to die with all sins and evil lusts; and that again a new man should daily come forth and arise who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever."