If books and movies are any indication, it would seem that we are drawn to stories about the underdog, who against all odds, is able to overcome the impediments placed in their way by the powers that be. No doubt, this is because history has taught us that the powerful are rarely ever beneficent and humble . . . and that the best you can hope for is that they’ll ignore you – history is pretty clear on this point. But the irony is, even though we identify with the powerless long shot underdog – what we really want to be is the powerful . . . so that we get to call the shots and have the final say.
Darwin identifies this instinct as being indicative of survival of the fittest. Nietzsche identifies this instinct as the unavoidable volitional collision of will to power. But neither one, within their non-theist calculations, would extol as virtuous or valuable the unassuming status of the underdog, as underdog. So why is it given the undeniable cultural influence of these two 19th Century thinkers, do we find ourselves drawn to the unassuming reluctant hero who takes on the far more powerful villain? How is it that we always end up believing that the wrong people have the power? Or is it simply as John Acton observed – power corrupts?
Neither Darwin, nor Nietzsche, had any moral expectation of power, both believing that the prevailing cultural morality would inevitable be shaped by whatever the powerful declared it to be. But the modern iteration of the non-theist, tends to see it the other way around – believing they have moral cause to impose their will and seize power . . . even though the morality they subscribe to isn’t really transcendent. You hear this cognitive dissonance in their gotcha challenge of the existence of God – If a good and all powerful God existed, why does suffering of the innocent exist?
This question is intended to appear as if it were concerned with the plight of the suffering, with the assumption that if an ultimate power actually existed it wouldn’t allow this to happen. But in fact, this question serves as an excellent insight into how the non-theist is inclined to expect the powerful to impose its will – because for them the whole point of having power is to impose will . . . even if that imposed will is the cause of much of the suffering in the world . . . which is likely why we think of the powerful as the villains in all of those narratives we’re drawn to.
This is what makes the cross such a scandal – because the idea of the ultimate power in the universe being humbled and vulnerable is contrary to everything we normally associate with power. But the self-emptying love of Christ freely offered as gift and not imposed, does seem to resonate with the narrative we already intuitively know to be true. So that in this way, Christ profoundly demonstrates that suffering isn’t overcome by an overwhelming display of imposed will, but rather is redeemed in the power of love’s willingness to be sacrificed – making the ultimate sacrifice, the penultimate power . . . only to be fully realized by the power of the Resurrection.
Is that you, my Lord?