From Salute to a Sufferer, by Leslie Weatherhead, Abingdon Press, 1962, pages 48-51. In this reading, Weatherhead discusses the age-old question of the goodness of God: IF God is All-powerful AND All-good, why is there suffering in the world he created? Weatherhead does not give a complete answer here. There is no complete answer. But with two creative illustrations, he does give some insight into the problem by describing some of the different ways power can be exerted.
We must consider the whole question of the nature of power. I think the concept of power is misunderstood because we imagine it to mean the ability to do anything. Let me use an illustration from the soccer field. Let’s suppose that you are on the sidelines watching two teams playing. A huge giant of a man, who is completely ignorant of the game, comes along and asks what all the struggle is about. Someone tells him that the goal of the game is to get the ball into the net. Supposing that, seeking to please, the giant stalks onto the field, knocks men right and left, picks up the ball, brushes off the goalkeeper, and puts the ball into the net. What a riot there would be! And what an ‘interfering so-and-so’ that giant would be called! And what would happen to that game of soccer if the giant continued to interfere in that way?
I want to offer the definition that power is the ability to achieve a purpose. Many things look like power, feel like power, and are called power, but if they defeat the intended purpose they are really weakness. The giant at the soccer match looked like the incarnation of power, but he defeated the whole purpose of the game. And part of the purpose of the ‘game of life’ is for people to struggle and grow and learn and work together. To end that struggle by a show of what is usually thought of as ‘omnipotent power’ would make life, as we know it, quite meaningless.
The ways in which we often imagine and wish that God would act and “show forth his might power” would, because they would defeat his holy and righteous purposes, really be weakness and show the same kind of futility as the giant at the soccer match. Paul saw the point clearly. “Why,” said the bystanders at the crucifixion, “doesn’t Christ call on God? Surely a God of power could save his own Son! Let God come and save him.” The Cross looked like defeat, felt like defeat, and was called defeat. Paul, however, called it “the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:18). What would a divine rescue of the Crucified have done compared with the power of the Cross to change men’s lives through twenty centuries of its preaching in every nation under heaven?
Consider another illustration. The playroom floor is covered with toy wooden building blocks. Several little brothers are playing with them, and they resolve to build a beautiful tower which their father, a very good, very strong, and very wise man has described to them. But they quarrel as to who shall do this and who shall do that, and as to what the pattern shall be. When one has got the tower partly built, another knocks it down again. Accidents happen, too. Boys do not watch where they put their feet. They do not know when a tower will stand and what conditions will make it likely to fall.
Then the father enters the nursery. He knows exactly how it should be done, and what it should look like, and how happy everyone would be if it were finished. So now, what are the possibilities open to him? I can think of four:
1. He could send all the little boys out of the nursery and build the tower by himself. (God did not ask man to help him build the Himalayas.)
2. He could intervene to prevent accidents and the results of ignorance and folly, stopping the careless foot and the angry, hostile hand.
3. He could beat into subjection the unruly boys who quarrel, making them spineless, terrified slaves; or, he could even throw them out of the nursery.
4. He could watch the boys build the tower, seeing it built slowly, and often carelessly. He could see it fall, or be knocked down, or its building ruined by ignorance and folly, or by angry impatience, or jealousy and hate– and yet, with infinite patience, without violence, he could try to teach the little brothers how to build again, how alone the tower can be made both beautiful and safe, how to get along with one another, one doing this and one doing that; until at last the tower arises erect, firmly founded, beautiful to see, and fulfilling the father’s dreams both as to the final beauty and stability of the tower, and, the effect on the builders of building it together.
The first three methods sound like power, but they would not fulfill nearly such a glorious purpose as the fourth method, even though at the end, the boys say that they built the tower by themselves and had no help from anyone! The fourth method alone makes them brothers and enables them to fulfill their possibilities. That is the way of God with humankind. And we really must realize that God’s choice of his own restraint is an expression of power, not weakness. Again and again, as civilizations rise and pass away, God sees his plans in ruins and his dreams trodden under foot. And in those disasters individual people suffer much pain, but they do grow and learn. This is the noblest way, and the way God has chosen.
Matthew 27:41-43 — In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked Jesus. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”
I Corinthians 1:18 — The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
II Corinthians 12:9 — (The Lord) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
Great, O Lord, is your kingdom, your power, and your glory; great also is your wisdom, your goodness, your justice, and your mercy; and for all these we bless you, and will magnify your name for ever and ever. Amen.
–George Wither, English poet (1588-1667)