Several nights ago, I dreamt I was being chased by a group of “bad” motorcyclists. There seemed to be no way I could elude them. They were able to follow me into the most improbable places and spaces: up steep cliffs, atop tables, between pillars, etc. Finally, a group of “good” motorcyclists appeared and rescued me. I was relieved.
Not only is power itself part of the fabric of our lives, but also the differentiation of good and bad power is basic to many of our decisions. Whether we are working in the intrapsychic realm, as in dreams, or in other contexts: interpersonal, organizational, cultural or celestial, we are confronted with power and its valuations.
Walter Wink’s Powers Series (Naming the Powers, Unmasking the Powers, and Engaging the Powers) is a stimulating study for all Christians. Wink, a New Testament scholar, helps us escape from the myth of materialism and understand the world view of Biblical writers as really having an integrated perspective of the inner and outer aspect of a given Power. Every Power has a visible manifestation, i.e. a church, and an inner essence, i.e. a driving force that animates and regulates it. Says Wink, “When a particular Power becomes idolatrous, placing itself above God’s purposes for the good of the whole, then that Power becomes demonic.” Naming the Powers and unmasking this idolatry is the Church’s task to the end that “Sovereignties and Powers should learn . . . how comprehensive God’s wisdom really is.” (Ephesians 3:10) Wink’s trilogy is also built on his researched hypothesis that the “Powers” themselves are a mixture of good and bad rather than some Powers being all good and others being all bad.
This on-going study of power references in the New Testament is assisting me in many ways in my work as a pastoral counselor. With childhood abuse victims, I have a deeper perspective on how the power of splitting and/or dissociation can take on a life of its own and become a Power. That which at one time came into being for the protection of the little person, often in adult life terrorizes the rational grown-up and thus becomes idolatrous. Wink’s reminder that all Powers are ultimately within the sovereignty of God can be helpful to those persons who feel under the control of remnants of past abuse. What the psychotherapist calls “neutralizing a negative dynamic” the New Testament believer can experience as bringing that Power under God’s discipline. This experienced belief can assist in providing the much needed security and safety for the adult victim of childhood abuse.
The impossibility of an individual person becoming completely autonomous and being fully responsible for her or his total life is informed by the understanding of inner essences and outer manifestations of discreet Powers, and by the mixture of good and evil aspects of each of them. For example, compulsions and addictions may need to be discerned in relation to Powers, and good defenses differentiated from evil results.
We need to take great care that we do not encourage unnecessary personifications of Powers as we and others experience them in our daily living. They really need to be accepted as partial constellations of memories, emotional reactions and rudimentary thoughts that may communicate through inner voices. Attending to the “spirits” energizing these Powers can assist us and others in the mature integration of our psyches.
A so-called dysfunctional family system might well be looked at in terms of what kind of Powers have been created within the family over the years, and what idolatries have resulted. Changing the behaviors of family members can be facilitated by taking seriously the “spirit” which energizes them. For example, a strong maternal focus may have been developed over the years, originally in response to an absent, ineffective or abusive father figure. When this Power overreaches and dominates, preventing the children from differentiating and developing in their semi-autonomous personhoods, then the demonic aspects of this Power need to be unmasked and brought under the wise discipline of God.
Or again, a realistic paternal authority can be “demonized” into a tyrannical Power of rigid authoritarianism which is both feared and fed by the misguided interaction of family members. The prophetic and priestly pastor has the opportunity and obligation to encourage and support honest expression of individual family members, to the end that the entire family can know the healing of God’s love.
Working with organizations such as parish churches could be enormously enriched by a realistic understanding of the history of that particular local congregation, and delineating the Powers which have come into being and for what purposes. Then, it would partly be a matter of deeper understanding of the outer manifestations (subgroups, rituals, and activities) and the inner essences (good and bad spirits, tenacious beliefs and resistance to change).
Powers come into being, flourish materially empowered by an inner energy or spirit and, then, can either recede as a natural course or be brought under the obedience of God’s overarching rule and love.
Whether our context is parish work or office counseling, we can all be comforted by reiterating Paul’s testimony “For I am sure that neither . . . nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers . . . will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)