The Problem With Power

Power confuses and concerns me.

Here is the paradox:

  • It is hard to do good without it.
  • The more power a man attains, the more evil he commits.

In politics we often think: “If only we could get more power we could do more good.” But is this the case?

Three Stories -> One Question

Can you fix a broken system by taking power from bad men and giving it to good men?

Here are three stories to explore this question.

Lelouch Vi Britannia

In Code GeassLelouch saw his mother killed and his sister blinded and crippled. He dedicated his life to making the world a just and kind place. He denied himself earthly pleasures and refused to drink the perks of leadership. He received the power to bend others to his will. He went out to destroy evil.

But evil is not a person you can kill. It is an infection that infects even its attackers. Click to Tweet!

Despite his selfless motives, his desire to do good brought a harvest of evil.

The more Lelush fought evil the more evil he became. His goal of justice allowed him to justify unjust acts. The more power he attained the more destruction came to those around him. He is redeemed only through his death.

What can save such a man?

Boromir son of Denethor

Boromir grew up fighting evil. He could see it out his window. He could hear it in his sleep. He was a powerful man, but not strong enough to save his people. He knew they would die unless someone acted.

If not him then who?
If not now then when?

Then he had the opportunity for true power. The One Ring was within his grasp.

The ring used his good intentions to do evil. He lost his relationships with those close to him. As he reached for ultimate power, it destroyed him.

His redemption came only through death.

Absalom son of David

Absalom had everything it took to be a good leader. He had favor, good looks and brilliance. When someone tried to bow to him he would pick them up and give them a hug. But unlike his father, he did not know God.

His father David walked a path of brokenness and suffering that instilled godly character. Absalom walked the easy path of a wealthy prince. He lacked the character needed to temper his ambition.

His lust for power destroyed his relationships and everyone around him. Ultimately he lost his life, unredeemed.

The fruit of ambition.

In each of these three stories ambition led to betrayal.

Here is the progression:

  1. Longing to do good for others leads to ambition.
  2. Ambition leads to a lust for power.
  3. Lust for power leads to a love of power.
  4. Love for power grows to surpass love for others.
  5. Others are betrayed to gain more power.
  6. Betrayal breaks relationships.
  7. Death

Ambition hurts those closest to you. Can you name a powerful man who’s family is healthy? The difficulty of finding such a man breaks my heart.

The cost of avoiding power.

So should we forsake ambition? What happens when just men avoid power? According to Socrates, they are punished. They are ruled by men lest just than themselves.

Or put another way, evil flourishes when good men avoid power.

The villains of history wanted to make the world a better place.

  • Oliver Cromwell wanted to make the world more peaceful & holy by removing Catholicism from Ireland.
    • Millions died through starvation and war.
  • Margarete Sanger wanted to create a world where every child was healthy and wanted.
    • Millions died through abortion.
  • Adolph Hitler wanted to remove war and disease by eliminating “imperfect” races.
    • Millions died through holocaust and war.
  • Joseph Stalin wanted a Utopian paradise by eliminating class and wealth.
    • Millions died, frozen to death, in Siberia.
  • Pol Pot wanted to create an agrarian paradise where everyone worked the collective land in peace.
    • Millions died from starvation and murder.

A Paradox

  • Peace is the justification for war.
  • Saving life is the justification to take life.
  • Pleasure is the justification for rape.
  • Safety is the justification of slavery.
  • Equality is the justification of theft.

America has killed perhaps more foreign civilians than any other nation. Our excuse? Saving lives. Why is it right when we do it, but wrong when Japan does it?

Does good justify evil before God? Does He judge our actions or our intentions?

Power does not corrupt.

In the book Whist by David Umstattd, Whist asks his mentor Skylock if power corrupts. “Heavens no” Skylock responds “Power only reveals your inner corruption.”

Perhaps Skylock has it right. What if power only magnifies corruption. One of the oldest sayings in the world says, “From evil people come evil deeds.”

Power x Corruption = Evil Committed Click to Tweet!

A villain without power does less evil than a good man with power. Click to Tweet!

The only cure for evil.

When God rebooted the world after the flood he only changed one thing: how long people lived. God limited man’s life to 120 years to limit the amount of wickedness man could perform. This heavenly term limit kept the world from going bad as quickly the second time.

We are born innocent, with only the seeds of evil in our hearts. As we grow older these seeds bring forth greater wickedness. Our knowledge, experience and reputation give us power to do evil which makes us evil.

Few ever see this process reverse. Old age may take away our ability to do bad, but who becomes more just? History shows us that many Christian leaders fail to finish well. Is the same is true for us? Do we just lack the spotlight of power to reveal our inner corruption? There will come a day when the light will shine on the strong and weak alike.

I am convinced that this is why people die. Only death can purge us from sin.

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:24

One Last Story

Sandra Bullock Desk in Blind Side

In the movie Blind Side, Leigh Anne Tuohy has power to bend people to her will. But something is different about her, instead of doing evil, she does good.

The difference?

  • Motivation: Her motivation is love.
  • Safe Power: Her power is inferential. Instead of forcing people to comply she convinces them to choose themselves. I think this is an important difference.

Instead of trying to get more power she does what she can with what she has.

What do you think?

  • Do you agree with my analysis?
  • Do you think that power corrupts or reveals corruption?
  • What should our response be to the problem of power?

Thomas Umstattd Jr. is the author of Courtship in Crisis, the former head of, and co-founder of the Austin Rhetoric Club, a homeschool speech and debate club in Austin, Texas. He is a professional speaker and CEO of Author Media. He sits on the board of directors for several nonprofits, including the Texas Alliance for Life.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

9 thoughts on “The Problem With Power

  1. Weeeell theologically there’s a problem with the assumption that we are born innocent and “Only death can purge us from sin.” It’s as if you’re denying the power of God to transform or sustain the life of some in the position of authority or power. Do you believe God has overcome the world? Has conquered sin and death? Do you consider death the separation of the body from the spirit? If so are you then implying that the body is evil?

    I think your analysis of leaders seems incomplete. Have you attempted an analysis of leaders that is more comprehensive, including, say, people with less power and some who are not mass murderers or dictators? This is a pretty selective group and two characters appear to be fictional. I’ve never seen the Blind Side, but again, why use a fictional character to illustrate your point? Are there no real life examples?

    Is it complete to say that love is the motivation? Isn’t love the goal as well?

    I know that’s all questions and no answers. I don’t know what I think about power. I am skeptical about it being intrinsically evil.

    As a side note, Nestorians and Luther and early Protestants in general have next to nothing in common. Luther preached the title of Mary Mother of God, “Our prayer should include the Mother of God…What the Hail Mary says is that all glory should be given to God (1522),” and he believed in the immaculate conception, “It is a sweet and pious belief that the infusion of Mary’s soul was effected without original sin; so that in the very infusion of her soul she was also purified from original sin and adorned with God’s gifts, receiving a pure soul infused by God; thus from the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin (Sermon: “On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God,” 1527).” All this was after he left the communion of the Catholic church; the 95 Thesis were nailed to the church door in 1517.

  2. Lelouch was acting out of love as well so your explanation for The Blind side doesn’t seem to quite work. The change that forced Lelouch to change was when he decided WHO to love. That’s the key. At first he chose to just love his sister and himself. Yet when his sister was taken from him he had to come to grips with the question of what his true meaning for existence was. And he decides. His purpose in life was to crush the evil world and create is anew. Even when he finds out his sister is really alive he chooses to go through with his attempt to save the world because he has chosen to love them. Its not that he stops loving his sister but that he loves others as well.

    Its the same problems with Boromir. He only loved the people of Gondor. (though you could argue there were other problems such as mistrust of others but I think the love issue was key.)

    The answer is that we are to love the whole world. Love our neighbors as ourselves. And our neighbors include people we don’t like. We are to love our enemies. This doesn’t mean we don’t have enemies. It just means we love them. And if someone must die to save the world we must choose (as Lelouch did) to have that person be us and not others.

    @ Brenda Lets try to keep on topic. Also: These three characters are from the three greatest written works in human history. The Bible, Code Geass, and The Lord of The Rings (in that order and I know Code Geass’s final form isn’t written but its so awesome is has to be in the list)

  3. When God rebooted the world after the flood he only changed one thing

    Was he using a Mac or a PC?

  4. God gave us a conscious to tell the difference between moral and immoral but we chose to ignore the gut wrenching detector he was so wise in creating .

    someone once said knowledge is power so learn something good first worth passing on.

    ego a pastor said it stands for edging God out. why do men think so many woman want to go with James Bond men think that not women. we would not be with you we would be with him.

    don’t covet you neighbors wife maid servant etc. don’t look with lust in your eyes, look into our eyes and you would not get into so much trouble.

    wisdom is learned from the wise those who already lived through it. so listen more and talk less that is why God gave us two ears and one mouth.


  5. The ideas in The Problem With Power are very relevant to current times. Your parents obviously served you well with your homeschooling.

    Your examples from past history certainly show that there must be limits on the power we allow any human to have. Even Jesus restricted the powers he had in heaven while he was on this earth in human form.

    There must be term limits on the power any human has besides their death, as can be seen in the overreaching by the Supreme Court and the leaders in our Congress who are not term limited, although they at least cannot act individually. Our Presidents and country have gotten into trouble however, when trying to put term limits on the leaders of other countries through war.

    I believe we must put term limits on all our congressmen and go back to the original idea of having mostly nonprofessional politicians who can write laws that can be enforced without having to be interprited by multiple judges or nonelected buracrats. Supreme power does corupt any human and must be reserved for the one supreme being.

  6. You hit the nail on the head when you said that power+corruption=evil committed, however, what about the people that God gave a special power to “bend people’s will” they aren’t inherently evil personified just because it’s there. I do agree it’s a choice on how that person will use it, but just because you have power doesn’t always mean you’ll want more and even if you do it’s still a choice. Power does not create evil it can be used for great good, since you like comparing real life situations with fictional characters (who if are going to be used need someone or something to compare them to), take Superman and Lex Luthor both were given great power, even though Superman’s abilities made him where he COULD do great evil he MADE a conscience DECISION to save and help those in need, Then we have Lex Luthor, someone who may not had have superhuman abilities, he had the money to do just as much good but he wanted more power and money to exercise it. So, to say that corruption is the key to powerful evil is a bit vague, it may be better to say that greed and love of one’s bank account combined with power is the real path, GREED not corruption is the path to a powerful evil. “To whom much is given much is required”, “The love (or greed) of money (or power) is the root of all kinds of evil” 1Tim 6:10.
    “With great power comes great responsiblity”.

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