22 February 2019

Once More on Right-handed vs Left-handed Power

[[Dear Sister Laurel, why doesn't God work through what you called "right-handed power"? Do you think maybe Jesus didn't have the power or authority to do this really? I know contemporary biblical scholars used to poo poo the idea that God did miracles or that Jesus was "just" a miracle or wonder worker. And yet, if Jesus could do such miracles why did he have to die on the cross? Why didn't he save himself and us by curing everyone? Am I making sense?]]

Thanks for the questions! Let me answer in terms of Mark's gospel and something from my own experience as well. In Mark's gospel one question dominates Jesus' life, namely, "What is the will of God?" A second question comes up as Jesus' corollary, namely, "What kind of Messiah will I be?" or in other terms, "In what way will I exercise power to bring the will of God to fulfillment; will it be right-handed power or left-handed power? Through the first thirty-some years of Jesus' life he has been shaped as a Son of God, (in Mark, this is one who truly hears and hearkens to God, as an embodiment of the Shema (Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is One, you shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart and mind and soul and understanding. . .)) But now, as one with unique power (exousia) or authority, the question of Jesus' own faithfulness to the will of God will be shaped in terms of the questions of right-handed or left-handed power. It will depend on how Jesus understands what God wills.

If Jesus discerns the will of God to be the healing, exorcism, and forgiveness of individuals --- even thousands and thousands and thousands of individuals, then right-handed power could be the answer (and certainly Jesus does use right-handed power!). If God wills that people who have died be revivified (not resurrected to new life), then again, Jesus' use of right-handed power of the kind he used with Lazarus or the little girl to whom he said "Talitha cum" could have been sufficient. But what is the will of God is greater than even these awesome things? What, for instance, if God's will included the actual destruction of sin and death, entrance into these realities to transform them with his presence? What if God willed not just the forgiveness of individuals' sins but the renewal, recreation and reconciliation of all creation in a way which ultimately ends sin and death altogether? What if God willed to take human reality into himself, give it a new context and quality and in this way of transcendence, also heal, exorcise, and forgive?

In such a case Jesus might well come to understand that right-handed power is entirely insufficient for the achievement of his mission and embrace instead a left-handed power exercised in smallness, slowness, patience, perseverance, weakness,  self-emptying, and even in suffering and death! After all, sin and death cannot be destroyed by Divine fiat; they are personal realities, even personal decisions which cannot be undone by mere (even creative and divine) force lest we also be destroyed by those acts of power. Trying to destroy sin and death with right-handed power is a bit like trying to remove yeast from leavened dough or pulling up weeds whose roots are intertwined with those of wheat. Mark is clear that this is precisely what happens and this discernment on Jesus' part shapes not only the kind of Messiah he will be, but the kind of discipleship he will call people to.

Let me give you an illustration of what I mean from my own experience. About 35 years ago I had an experience in prayer that I have written about here in the past. I was having trouble praying, was pushing or trying too hard so my director held out her hands, asked me to rest mine in hers and then asked that I now go ahead and pray as I always did. (One moment of entering prayer felt very like an experience I had whenever I was beginning to have a seizure so it was a moment that frightened me and made it hard to just entrust myself to God. Hence, Sister M's suggestion re resting my hands in her own.) I let myself go into God's hands and the experience over the next 40 minutes was astounding. The details are not so important here except I came away with two foundational senses: 1) this was God, there was no doubt of that, and 2) had God wanted to heal me of the seizure disorder (right-handed power), God certainly could have done so in a heartbeat; once again I had no doubt of that, nor was I troubled that this was not what God chose to do.

The corollary here was the same as we find in the Gospel of Mark, namely, God was asking me for a discipleship that was expressed in patience, perseverance, and a trust in God's vital "seed" that would come slowly, grow ultimately on its own (often while I slept!), and come to fruition in its own time. In other words, God had chosen a left-handed exercise of power which would be perfected in weakness and suffering. Over the past two plus years I have engaged in a process of inner formation that has asked for the same kind of patience and trust. (I was rarely truly successful in that, though I have grown in both patience and trust and am now seeing an amazing harvest beginning to sprout.) The healing and growth is much more extensive than what would have occurred had God simply healed me of my seizure disorder. It involves a kind of transfiguration, I think. Left-handed power works differently than right-handed power and the discipleship associated with it is in some ways, more demanding and geared to greater growth and a more extensive wholeness and holiness which suits one to greater suffering but also, in my own experience anyway, to greater faith, hope, and compassion.

I hope this is helpful. If my answers were not explicit enough in some ways, please get back to me and I'll give it another shot.