Last week I watched the first of four interviews by Kerry O’Brien of the ABC, of the former Australian Treasurer and Prime Minister, Paul Keating.
Keating has been out of Parliament since 1996. He admitted that the thing that drove him for most in his political career, was the pursuit of power. And in this he had been schooled by Jack Lang, the former Premier of NSW, who had been removed by the Governor of NSW during the Depression.
When men engage in the pursuit of power for its own sake, there are generally negative consequences for themselves, and others. Last week, with Kevin Rudd retiring from Parliament, his biographer has written that
Kevin Rudd is shattered. The drives that consumed every waking moment of his adult life are scattered to the political winds. It will take a very long time for him to reassemble the pieces.
This is not because there is something inherently wrong with power. If there was, God would be a flawed Person, for He declares that “…power is Mine” (Prov.8:14). Power is a perfectly legitimate aspect of men’s work when they take responsibility over God’s creation, as servants of God. This is what God called Adam and Eve to, when He commanded them to “rule and have dominion,” back in the Garden. It is what we’re called to, as well.
Lord Acton is famous for his dictum, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” but this is not what the Bible teaches. Man’s problem with corruption came with sin, not power. Sinful men abuse power, just like they abuse everything else God has made and given us. Once God deals with the issue of sin for an individual through Christ, we are made to be new creatures, able to be used of God for all manner of glorious purposes in His Name.
Parents have power over their children, elders, deacons and pastors have power over their church congregations, while business and political leaders have power too. But power should never be exercised for egotistical purposes. In fact, the Bible specifically warns us that we are to “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit…” (Phil.2:3), and that “…where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing” (James 4:16).
Adonijah said “I will be king…” (I Kings 1:5), but his egotistical ambitions only finished up taking him to an early grave, as he refused to accept the legitimacy of Solomon’s rule, after their father, King David had died.
When God spoke to Moses about the possibility of Israel at some point choosing a king, He commanded that
when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. It shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord His God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen… (Deut. 17:18-20).
Thus the use of power must always be in subjection to God. This is the nature of godly responsibility. Jordan’s lengthy comments here are valid:
The point of the parable [of Judges 9:7-21] is that good men do not desire to lord it over others. Good men are happy being productive for God and for their fellowmen. They realize that the road to greatness is the way of the servant, as their Lord taught (Mk.10:42-45). The only kind of men who desire political authority for its own sake are bramble men — unproductive men who seek to attain fame and fortune by taking it from others who are productive…
The bramble is not oriented toward productive work. Rather, he is oriented toward tyrannical rule. He represents the ungodly man who builds up a society based on taking what other people have laboured to produce. His is a socialistic society, based on massive confiscation of the wealth of other people, their hard earned savings and capital. His is an imperialistic society, based on the conquest of weaker people and of their production. His is a slave society, based on the forced labour of other people. The bramble society is indeed the society of the curse.
Those who greatly desire to be kings are usually the least qualified for the post. Far wiser government generally comes from those who only reluctantly shoulder the heavy burdens of office. The good, wise trees were reluctant; the bramble was anxious to rule.
What has Paul Keating now? Well, he may be a rich man with lots of interesting recollections, but he has lost his family, through putting the pursuit of power ahead of essentially everything, including the love and care for his family. In this he is like many, including his predecessor, Bob Hawke. Many US political leaders have chosen the same route, with similar consequences.
The best and safest attitude concerning power, is to see it as something to be exercised under God, and as an aspect of service, typified by the attitude, “How can I help?” He promises dominion for His people, not through ambition, or lording it over others, but through service. The Good Shepherd (Jn.10:11) laid down His life for the sheep.