Last week on Thursday, Donald Trump in his usual bombastic style made a comment against his presidential opponent, Joe Biden, where he said that Biden would “hurt God.” Now, somewhat predictably on theological twitter, people rose us to defend the doctrine of divine impassibility, where God can not be effected or harmed by anyone or anything. However, this focus on theological orthodoxy has perhaps obscured from view the deeper issue that Trump’s rhetoric is actually suggestive of. Trump rhetoric demonstrates a fundamental presupposition of the Western world about human power, that it is ultimately more powerful than God’s power.
If we go back to May of this year during the curbing of coronavirus in New York state, Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, said “The number is down because we brought the number down. God did not do that. Faith did not do that. Destiny did not do that. A lot of pain and suffering did that.”
Since the Enlightenment, there has been a marked shift in the West about the way we think of God and humanity. Whereas God ordered the world that humans lived within according to the religious worldview, the worldview of Enlightenment placed human reason, knowledge, and, ultimately, power at center stage. If God even exists, He is like an absentee landlord who built the place but left it to the tenants to deal with. The Enlightenment was the first to propogate the idolatry of human power that was manifested in the intellectual history of the West, with liberalism, Marxism, democracy, nationalism, science, etc. all being built on the foundation of human power to accomplish the desired goals and ends for what it is deemed that like should look like.
To be clear here, by idolatry I do not mean the psychological desire or want for power. This is something different. Rather, I think of idolatry within a social framework where the various social institutions and social relationships we have encourage putting our trust in the future in something we believe has the power to better our lives. We as persons push towards and commit idolatry when we as individuals accommodate to these cultural and engage in the various liturgies and practices that lift up these idols. When we do this, our very ways of thinking, feeling, and acting are subtly shifted and conformed to the idol we give ourselves in service to.
However, because Christians have tended to treat idolatry as an internal, psychological state of affairs about what we desire or want, we overlook the interpersonal in favor of the intrapersonal. We see the war being waged inside of ourselves between our desires, which Paul referred to as the battle between the desires of the flesh and the Spirit, and are inclined to think that is idolatry. Consequently, we overlook the way our various daily practices that don’t seem to be in any immediate contradiction with our systems of righteousness but many of these practices actually enculturate us into a way of living that gives ourselves to the service and trusting of these idols, which in this case is human power.
How we have become enculturated to the idols is not the important thing to observe at the moment; modern idolatries are immensely more complex than ancient idolatries as there is no clear priesthood or temples that control and propagate the practices. The important thing to recognize is that the majority of West, Christian and non-Christian, have given themselves to this idolatry in often subtle ways in such a way that human intentions, knowledge, purposes, planning, designing, and implementation have crowded out our faith in God into the corners of our life that we find we are unable to successfully manage coping with.
The reason behind the idolatry is a misleading truth. It is certainly true that, as Andrew Cuomo said, that human efforts to contain the virus was responsible for the decrease in numbers. More broadly, it is certainly true that when humans have the resources, knowledge, planning, and implementation, that we are capable of having a dramatic impact on our world around us. Human power is often quite dramatic and breath-taking when you take it as a whole. The ability for human power to create a world with nearly 8 billion people, of whom about only 1/8 live in desperate poverty is quite a feat of human power. Compared to past history, this is quite impressive.
And yet, there is the side effects of human power that do not accord with human purposes and goals. The desolation and destruction of our global climate reveals that the impressive of human power can not deliver unmitigated goodness and life, but that there are always costs associated with human power. Human power can do impressive things, but it is often impressive because we have not seen the true costs that human action brings with it. We caught a visible glimpse of it in the 20th century, as nationalist dreams were being genocidally built on top of innocent blood that would cover the land. This is not to mention the centuries long atrocity of widespread slave-trading that the European powers built to satisfy their lust for money and status.
When Adam and Eve ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they did not get a knowledge that was partly good and partly evil. No. They received a knowledge that did both good and evil, that both sustained life and destroyed life, that built up and tore down. It was this reality of what Adam and Eve could do that made God expel them from the garden. Yet, it is this reality of human power that we have come to idolize; it is this that the serpent worked to accomplish.
Meanwhile, God’s power is not frequently impressive on an earthly scale. While occasionally God does powerful signs and wonders, including most importantly the resurrection of Jesus, that bring about our sense of awe and faith, Jesus prefers to describe his disciples and the kingdom of heaven with metaphors that are slow processes, particularly with His agricultural metaphors. God’s sovereign power and work is demonstrated not in the impressiveness of human power according to human standards, but God is capable of bring about His purposes through the long-term orchestration and convergence of His plan throughout the long trod of the human lifetime and human history. God is so powerful, so sovereign that He doesn’t have to repeatedly glamor us and wow us to accomplish His purposes.
Yes, human power is quite fearsome in its own right, but it can’t deliver the progress we hope for it to deliver. It is built on a foundation that will not last when God shakes the heavens and earth once more. Jesus came to put to death the works of the devil and instead give and put within us the type of life that will last when God shakes everything again.
Last Wednesday, I wrote about awakening coming when people could discern the way they lifted up human power above God. I prayed to God three times to see if that was God’s word or my own, which I heard it was from God each of the three times, and then I opened myself to seek external, personal confirmation that it was God, which I recieved. Then, the next morning, Trump suggested Biden could hurt God, publicly confirming the very thing I spoke to. Hear my words on this; heed it not as my word but God’s Word through His Spirit to cleanse your minds from the idolatry of human power and all the things that human power seduces us to think we can obtain by it.