Business Connect Host 2015: Are the Powers Evil or Fallen?

In this post reflecting on the Business Connect Host event I want to talk about our struggle against "the principalities and powers."

When you are talking about businesses and economics you can't help but talk about principalities and powers. In his presentation at Host Bob Ekblad (author of Reading the Bible with the Damned) gave a great biblical and theological overview of the powers and of our battle against them.

One of the discussions we had at Host had to do with the ultimate destiny of the powers. For example, are the powers going to be ultimately destroyed as seems to be the case in 1 Corinthians 15?
1 Corinthians 15.24-25
Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
Or are the powers ultimately redeemed and reconciled? For example:
Colossians 1.15-16, 19-20
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...God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
It's an important question. Are the powers evil or fallen? If evil the powers shall be ultimately destroyed. If fallen the powers are ultimately reconciled to God, tamed, chastened and "put back in their box" to use Stephen Backhouse's phrase from Host.

While seemingly abstract this question has important practical implications for how we are to "resist" the powers. What form shall our resistance to the powers take? A lot of that depends upon if the powers are to be destroyed or redeemed.

When I listened to Julie Tomlin's presentation about her experiences in Greece, how demoralized the people were because of their broken economy, it's hard not to take a very dim view of the powers and conclude that what they ultimately deserve is destruction. Picking up on Matthew Lynch's presentation, it feels like the situation in Genesis 6 before the flood. As Matthew pointed out, the flood does not ruin the earth. The earth was already ruined by human violence and wickedness.
Genesis 6.11-14
The earth was ruined in the sight of God; the earth was filled with violence. God saw the earth, and indeed it was ruined, for all living creatures on the earth were sinful. So God said to Noah, “I have decided that all living creatures must die, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. Now I am about to destroy them and the earth. 
It feels sometimes that the powers have ruined the earth and that the only solution is for God to wipe the world clean of them.

And yet, there were moments during Host when the powers seemed redeemable.

For example, during the "Tales from the Inside" event hosted by Simon Nash out at the prison one of the Jersey locals who works in prison ministry told this powerful story. It was a story of a man who had a prior criminal record who had gotten arrested again. Because of his prior history this second arrest likely meant that this man would be going back to prison for a long time, keeping him away from his wife and young children.

On the day of his hearing the man was keep waiting all day. Finally, at the end of the day, with the courtroom now empty, the magistrate called the man forward.

The magistrate had recognized the man and had waited to the end of the day so that they could talk privately. A week or two before the magistrate and the man had met and the magistrate remembered that they had talking about their children. The magistrate gave the man a friendly but stern lecture to keep his nose clean so that he could be at home to be a good father to his children.

And then the magistrate let the man go free.

Upon hearing about this wonderful act of grace from the magistrate Stephen Backhouse leaned over to me and whispered, "See, the powers aren't always bad."

In moments like this--when we see power used to protect, forgive, support or bring justice--it seems like the powers are redeemable.

So how are we to live with the powers?

When I think of Chris Neal's presentation regarding how to create missional communities within a structure like the Anglican Church, or Simon Nash's presentation about how to stimulate employee performance in a business with supportive rather than coercive or manipulative interventions, I was moved to make the comment at the end of Host that perhaps the best we can do with the powers is to humanize them.

That's what the magistrate did. The magistrate humanized the interaction which gave the power the capacity to behave humanely.

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9 thoughts on “Business Connect Host 2015: Are the Powers Evil or Fallen?”

  1. This series has been excellent, thanks for posting it. Is it possible that the powers to be destroyed are dynamics, tendencies, etc., whereas reconciliation is made available to the people caught up in and by them, both the oppressed and the oppressors?

    My own theoretical question raises more questions for me than it answers, but those are questions I have with the idea of universal reconciliation generally. Separating the issue into forces vs individuals appears a clean enough distinction, and is appealling to me, but to imagine reconciliation for all others requires a perspective I do not have.

  2. It comes down to the definition of powers. Are powers people or are powers systems created by different people over time. Is the Constitution powers or are the people who wrote the Constitution powers? Jesus mentioned the Nations being judged in Matthew's commentary on the Sheep and the Goats. Are the Nations individuals or systems? People can be redeemed. Corrupt systems must be destroyed.

  3. Of course the magistrate waited for the end of the day for a reason - because his act was subversive. At that point he was likely no longer working as an agent of the powers, but as a human being.

  4. let's look at it like this, rich, what do you have when you put lipstick on a pig?
    it might be a pretty pig, but then I'm sure you can figure out the rest.
    Hebrews chapter 5 vs 12 thru 14.
    in Romans chapter 1 vs 18 through 32 we have some clues.
    and as in Malachi god never changes and his righteous judgments stand.
    Let's just have a look here.
    Genesis chapter 3 verse 22this makes men responsible for their actions in the face of God, good or evil in the sight of God the righteous Judge. now then let's looK back to Romans 1.
    specifically Romans 1:18 the wrath of God is revealed.
    Then skip to Verse 32 the last Verse in the chapter...
    although they fully know God's righteous decree,that those who practice such things deserve to die.they not only do them,but also approve of those that practice them.
    now then exactly where is this righteous decree exercised and Why?
    let's just try to look at that flood one more time.
    Genesis chapter 6 verse 16. everything's going to die because of so much violence what brought that conclusion and why was he telling Noah, new line Genesis chapter 6 vs 5 through 9 everybody should read on and find out the righteous decree

  5. Aren't the principalities and powers the outward expression of human desires / creations? So, then, would it do any good to only pay attention to destruction / redemption of the principalities and powers but not the heart of humanity? If the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?

  6. This is some meaty stuff. But the more I keep running around and through it, the more I trip over my own feet.

    That said, the destruction of power leaves a vacuum, and another rushes in to fill it. So, as Richard said, "...the best we can do with the powers is to humanize them". To my mind, that means we are constantly called upon; we are, after all, in one power or another.

  7. Walter Wink thought pretty strongly that the Powers would be redeemed, although for some of them, that would mean their destruction. I'm also heartened by these verses in Revelations 21: 23And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it....

  8. It strikes me that some of what the "powers and principalities" metaphor needs is some careful nuance. We need to be precise. I think about levels of abstraction when I think about this and it helps me sort out some of what I think about whether various powers either fallen or evil. For example if our example of a "power" is something massive and faceless like "the economy" - it is difficult to even start analyzing this. If we say that the economy is evil and will be destroyed what does that even mean? Can we imagine any way of humans relating to one another that wouldn't be in some sense economic, ie: an organization of households, a way of distributing resources? If we narrow that field a little and our example of a power is "capitalism" it becomes little easier. It's difficult, but possible to imagine capitalism being either destroyed without all human society also being destroyed. One step narrower, if our example of a power is "corporations" then it becomes even easier to imagine individual corporations being either destroyed or redeemed and we can even imagine direct steps toward those ends. A group of shareholders or a board of directors is an even narrower example and becomes even easier to imagine their ends.

    What I notice about this scale is that at either extreme it is less desirable to imagine destruction and more desirable to imagine redemption, but in the middle destruction is less problematic. ie: I wouldn't desire the destruction of a particular CEO or Politician as they embodied powers and principalities in our world. The closer we are to a human being the more I want to see them humanized/redeemed. Similarly at the grand scale I can't even imagine how we could destroy the entire economy, or all government, or all kinship/ethnicity without also doing a lot of harm. I want to see redeemed societies. Redeemed economies. Redeemed tribes/nations.

    In the middle however it is much easier and more desirable to imagine powers being destroyed. Who needs Exxon/Mobil? In the fire. The prison-industrial complex? Get rid of it. In fact, it seems like in order to redeem specific humans, or humanity as a whole, we NEED to destroy a bunch of the powers/principalities in that mid-field which are preying on us.

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