Counterfeit Gods: The Power and the Glory

“The Power and the Glory” is chapter five and it speaks insightfully to the problem of abusive leadership.

Pastor Keller begins the chapter discussing World War II and the Nazi “love of country” that bread a patriotism that “became demonic and destructive.”

Keller says, “What happened? Idolatry.”

Pearls and Swine is not about our politics. It is about Christian leadership. Though Keller does speak to political leadership in this chapter, in the end he focuses on simply the idolatry that is exhibited in leadership. It can be applied to any position of power and authority and should be.

Keller notes that Reinhold Niebuhr from the mid-twentieth century, wrote eloquantly about man’s desire to be god. Keller said,

“Rather than accept our finitude and dependence on God, we desperately seek ways to assure ourselves that we still have power over our own lives.”

Abusive leadership is about power over our own lives.

I would like, in this short blog, to pick apart one particular statement Keller makes:

“One of the great ironies of sin is that when human beings try to become more than human beings, to be as gods, they fall to become lower than human beings. To be your own god and live for your own glory and power leads to the most bestial and cruel kind of behavior. Pride makes you a predator, not a person.”

Page 121

The context of this statement is a discussion about the prophet Daniel and King Nebuchadnezzar.

The king had fascinating dreams and Daniel, a captive from Israel, was by God’s grace able to interpret his dreams. In Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar has had a dream about a tree that grew and “became strong, and its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth.”

The king went on to explain,

“a watcher, a holy one, came down from heaven. He proclaimed aloud and said thus: Chop down the tree and lop off its branches, strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the beasts flee from under it and the birds from its branches…Let his portion be with the beasts in the grass of the earth. Let his mind be changed from a man’s, and let a beast’s mind be given to him; and let seven periods of time pass over him.”

Daniel 4:13-16

Daniel warns Nebuchadnezzar that he is that tree and to “break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.”

Show mercy to the oppressed. Do not practice your power by authoritarianism and oppression. Seek the people’s good in the use of your power.

Nebuchadnezzar did not take Daniel’s advice but one year later, he was pridefully walking on the roof of his palace, high above his subjects and his great land, and he says, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?”

It says, while those words were still hanging on the wind, the Lord spoke to Nebuchadnezzar. The king would become like a beast in the field. Eating grass. His kingdom taken from him.

“When human beings try to become more than human beings, to be as gods, they fall to become lower than human beings.

Entitlement does this.

Those who believe they are the most deserving. The most powerful. The most important.

They become like beasts. And they will act like beasts.

They will create a hell on earth for those over whom they have power.

Idolatry is fundamental to abusive authority. Leaders who consider themselves something rather than dependent on the Lord for everything they have, treat others with disdain and manipulation. They work very hard to retain their kingdom, doing whatever is necessary.

And often that is abusing those the Lord has called them to tenderly care for using the authority He has given them.

Instead, in their entitlement, they look over their vast kingdom and reason it was raised up by them. They will have to keep it in good stead. They will have to crush any dissent. They will have to protect the image of their kingdom.

Pride makes you a predator, not a person.

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