However, Hendrik Berkhof in his book Christ and the Powers wants us to consider the creational goodness of the Powers. To be sure, the Powers are hostile to Christ. But that doesn't mean the Powers are wholly evil and serve no good purpose. According to Berkhof the Powers give structure and order to creation. And while this order and structure might be satanic in nature, this order is preventing a slide into a greater chaos and disorder.
This is an argument that people like me need to wrestle with (which is why I'm blogging about it!).
Berkhof grounds his creation theology of the Powers in Colossians 1.15-17:
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.As Berkhof comments, "Usually the expositors of these words have laid all the accent on [the Powers] negative aspect." And yet, if we look for it Paul is saying something positive here about the Powers as well. As Berkhof observes the Powers were created by Christ and for Christ, the Powers were to be in Berkhof's words "instruments of God's love." Berkhof elaborates:
It strikes us as strange that Paul can speak thus positively of what he elsewhere calls "poor and weak powers of this world" or "precepts and doctrines of men." Yet it is not so strange. Divers human traditions, the course of earthly life as conditioned by the heavenly bodies, morality, fixed religious and ethical rules, the administration of justice and the ordering of the state--all these can be tyrants over our life, but in themselves they are not. These fixed points are not the devil's invention; they are the dikes with which God encircles His good creation, to keep it in His fellowship and protect it from chaos...Therefore the believer's combat is never to strive against [the Powers], but rather to battle for God's intention for them, against their corruption.William Stringfellow would say that the Powers are not evil, they are fallen and thus antagonistic toward God, creation, other Powers and humankind. Our struggle with the Powers is with them in their fallenness. Berkhof continues:
Paul speaks, once, of the Powers as related to the creative will of God. But we do not know them in this divinely appointed role. We know them only as bound up with the enigmatic fact of sin, whereby not only men have turned away from God, but the invisible side of the cosmos functions in diametric opposition to its divinely fixed purpose. When Paul writes that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, not even the Powers, he presupposes that the nature of the Powers would be to do just that, to separate us from love. The Powers are no longer instruments, linkages between God's love, as revealed in Christ, and the visible world of creation. In fact, they have become gods (Galatians 4:8), behaving as though they were the ultimate ground of being, and demanding from men an appropriate worship. This is the demonic reversal which has taken place on the invisible side of creation. No longer do the Powers bind man and God together; they separate them. They stand as a roadblock between the Creator and His creation.A couple of observations about this. The struggle against the Powers isn't for their eradication. Rather, the struggle is for their redemption, for the Powers to submit to the Lordship of Jesus and regain their proper place and function in human affairs. We'll always need rules, structures, codes of conduct and some semblance of government. We all have to agree, say, to drive on the left or right side of the road. Even anarchist communities have certain guidelines, traditions, mutual expectations, and protocols for handling disputes that if violated or ignored lead to communal dissolution.
The Powers continue to fulfill one half of their function. They still undergird human life and society and preserve them from chaos. But by holding the world together, they hold it away from God.
The Powers, in short, will always be with us.
The battle with the Powers, then, is really about idolatry. Less about the existence of the Powers than with their existential, moral, political and spiritual ultimacy in human affairs. Phrased other way, the struggle with the Powers is about bondage and slavery, submitting to them rather than confessing that Jesus is "Lord of all." This goes back to some of our observations from the last post. What concerns Paul in Colossians 2 was that the church was submitting to human--Jewish and pagan--moral codes of conduct, treating these cultural codes as the ultimate rule of life rather than confessing Jesus as Lord.
As to how we might resist idolizing and becoming enslaved to the Powers we'll turn to Berkhof's notion of "Christianizing" the Powers in the next and final post.
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