Lord Acton, the great historian and parliament member in 19th century Britain coined the famous phrase, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Indeed, the abuse of political power run long and deep in the storied chapters of human history.
This should not be taken as an indictment against either the concept of political power or the legitimacy of government. Rather, it is the basic reminder that when too much power is concentrated into one place, it tends to produce corruption and evil. The United States was founded by men and women who were very familiar with what can happen when a king is granted unlimited power. Therefore, our system of government involves an elaborate series of “checks and balances” to keep power from concentrating in one area. The legislative branch authorizes the expenditure of money and passes laws, but has no power to enforce any law. The executive branch is responsible for enforcing all laws, but cannot make a law. The judicial branch interprets law and determines if they are constitutional or not. The executive can veto a law, but that can be overturned by congress. Many more examples could be given. This is one of the great strengths of our country.
The interesting thing about “checks and balances” is that it is a “check” on power. It is a “balance” on power. In other words, our world has long understood that power must be checked, or it will run afoul and unleash injustices, endless suffering and crushing pain. However, we should never forget that there are no checks and balances on the exercise of love. By love, I am not referring to the sexualized and sentimental orientation of the word ‘love’ in popular culture. Rather, I am referring to love as found in the Hebrew word hesed, which appears nearly 250 times in the Old Testament. The Hebrew hesed means God’s covenantal, steadfast lovingkindness towards us. Hesed is the dominant term used to describe the love or faithfulness of God. In the face of whatever obstacles, we remain committed to the gospel and to the great power of God’s love in Jesus Christ.
Our Jewish friends, dating back to the Mishnah, have a wonderful phrase “tikkun olam.” It means to “repair the world.” The Jews understand hesed as the means through which God “repairs the world” (tikkun olam). We all realize that our world is in a mess. Our society is broken. We need to be repaired. In the mystery of the gospel, God does not repair the world through the exertion of raw power. Rather, he repairs the world through love. Hesed is God’s covenant commitment to oppose evil in the world, defeat it, and to establish righteousness on the earth. For a Jew to say, “God loves us” or “God loves me” is not an expression of an emotion. Rather, it is an expression of God’s covenantal commitment to stand by his people and, in the end to vindicate them and sets all things right. As Christians we recognize that God’s hesed love is actually rooted in a Person, Jesus Christ. God’s covenant, His loving faithfulness, his hesed, becomes embodied in Jesus Christ. He alone “repairs the world.” It does not take the shape of a sledge hammer. Through the veil of God’s bearing the world’s brokenness and suffering in the world, we see that the shape of hesed is cruciform. It is the shape of love. It is the shape of laying your life down for your enemies.
We are facing many challenges as a nation. However, we should not despair, or become cynical. Our nation is very resilient. Many of our institutions are in crisis, but this should sharpen our resolve to be faithful in our witness to the gospel. As Christians we must redouble our commitment to holiness, to civility, to hospitality, to sacrificial love, to the privilege of serving as ambassadors of the Triune God in the world. We should rejoice that though power needs checking, there are no checks and balances on love. We must unleash a tsunami wave of compassion. We must unleash an avalanche of love. We must unleash a tidal wave of sacrificial service. The world cannot stop that. There are no checks or balances on love. In fact, it is precisely this kind of robust, sacrificial love which “repairs the world.” Thanks be to God.