Most of us are familiar with the old adage, ‘things aren’t always what they seem.’ It’s a reminder to us of an important truth − we can be deceived. The problem for us can be that we forget that is somewhat of an Achilles heel in us all since Adam and Eve listened to the serpent in the garden that twisted God’s words.
You may well remember that the serpent (Lucifer) was once an angel in the court of heaven, but he lusted after the power of God. He wanted to usurp that power and he was clever enough to take a third of the angels with him and then God reminded him of his place when he fell from heaven. Deception was woven into the very fabric of his being.
Before that day Adam and Eve listened to the serpent, mankind was made in the image of God and was meant to reflect Him and his character. After the serpent’s seduction of the happy couple, God’s image in them was marred and their character reflected the serpent’s instead of God’s. They were the serpent’s ‘image bearers’ and that cosmic DNA got knit into what God had intended to be unmarred and reflect Him. That cosmic combination got passed down to every generation after them to those of us who live today.
Because our nature is not God’s original intent, we struggle with the same character flaws that the serpent (a former beautiful angel) dealt with and still deals with. That includes a desire for power. We may not always recognize that in ourselves because it isn’t always something we feel. We will see it most easily when we are confined in some way and feel more powerless.
We have a paradoxical connection to power.
We know it can be bad if used and abused, but we also respect it and sometimes want at least some of it. When we submit to power whether it is to parents, teachers, clergy, or others, we might assume because of their authority, skill, beauty, knowledge, status, position, etc. that they have integrity. It’s not a big leap to look at this list, compare ourselves to it and decide that person or organization that has these things knows more than we do and will seek to serve us in ways that benefit us. And sometimes that is true, but not always.
Power can blind us to the truth about ourselves and deceive us. A powerful example of that is evident in J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy, Lord of the Rings. The ring has power and even the simplest of hobbits, Frodo Baggins, discovers it can tempt him.
In one scene in the film, Galadriel gives warning about the ring and man’s susceptibility to it:
“In the gathering dark, the will of the ring grows strong. It works hard now to find its way back into the hands of men. Men, who are so easily seduced by its power.”
Once power deceives us, we are ensnared and may not realize how much so until it is too late.
In Tolkien’s epic work, time and again good men, elves, dwarves, or hobbits are drawn to the power of the ring and miss that once they take the ring, it takes them and reshapes them completely.
The strongest example is when we watch Sméagol transformed by the ring into the creature Gollum. His lust for the ring of power (“My Precious”) causes him to destroy himself in molten fire rather than to allow the ring to be destroyed.
When power is misused and abused, the one using it falls prey to deception.
That would be bad enough, but it doesn’t stop there. Often the person doesn’t even recognize he or she is deceived, nor do they see how they move to deceive others. When that step of deceiving others occurs and their goals are thwarted, they then try to use their power to coerce others into giving them what they want.
Dr. Diane Langberg has worked with many persons and organizations about issues of trauma and abuse and the role of power and deception. Hear her wisdom in this:
“Those who abuse power are deceived. Abuse of power requires deadening our ability to discern good and evil.
When self-deception works with temptation, they convince us that something wrong is okay. Then we blame external circumstances for our choices.
As time goes on self-deception functions as a narcotic numbing us to the danger and damage of our choices.
Deadness of our soul will cause us to lose the power to hate evil and remove our taste for good.”
Is all hope lost? Are we doomed?
As Gandalf would say in The Lord of the Rings,
“All we have to do decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
The first decision is to yield to the One whose image we were meant to reflect and then allow Him to reshape us and fight with and for us.
And with that decision, we must recognize the One who is all-powerful, to humble ourselves before Him, and learn from the evidence that came from the lust for power by the serpent that sought to usurp God’s power.