Are You Chasing Power?
- Wednesday, February 04, 2009
I can’t vouch for the accuracy of that story. I don’t know if Otho of Lomello actually did find the body of Charlemagne as he claimed. But there are two features of the story that I know to be true: First, everyone who holds power today will someday be dead. Second, there is no amount of power that is worth the price of one’s own soul.
Power is a Trap
Saddam Hussein was born in the Iraqi village of Tikrit, the same village that, 900 years earlier, was the birthplace of Saladin, the renowned Muslim sultan who defeated the Christian crusaders and conquered Palestine. Saladin was, in fact, one of Saddam’s two great heroes; the other was Soviet strongman Joseph Stalin. According to UN weapons inspector Charles Duelfer, Saddam saw himself as “the incarnation of the destiny of the Arab people.” He believed that he had been chosen by Allah as a new Saladin, a man who would wield the limitless power of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons to, once again, defeat the “Crusaders” from the West (America), conquer Palestine and live forever as a hero of the Arab people.
Reporting for Time magazine, Johanna McGeary wrote that Saddam “appears to have not so much a strategy as a concept of grandeur. He is never satisfied with what he has. He operates by opportunity more than by plan and takes devastating risks if the gambles might expand his power. He believes in the ruthless use of force.”3
Saddam Hussein’s ruthless ambition for power, coupled with his country’s vast petroleum resources, made him one of the most dominant and dangerous figures in the Middle East—but also one of the most pathetic. In a 2002 essay on Saddam Hussein for The Atlantic Monthly, Mark Bowden revealed a surprising picture of the dictator as a prisoner of his own enormous power:
Saddam is a loner by nature, and power increases isolation. . . . One might think that the most powerful man has the most choices, but in reality he has the fewest. Too much depends on his every move. The tyrant’s choices are the narrowest of all. His life—the nation!—hangs in the balance. . . .
Power gradually shuts the tyrant off from the world. Everything comes to him second or third hand. He is deceived daily. He becomes ignorant of his land, his people, even his own family. He exists, finally, only to preserve his wealth and power, to build his legacy. Survival becomes his one overriding passion. So he regulates his diet, tests his food for poison, exercises behind well-patrolled walls, trusts no one, and tries to control everything.4
We are tempted to ignore the lessons of Saddam Hussein’s power grubbing existence. We think, “Well, Saddam Hussein was unhinged! He was a dangerous madman! His life has nothing to teach me.” But as pastor Rick Warren reminds us, “The world is full of little Saddams. Most people cannot handle power. It goes to their heads.” Remember, power chasers come in all shapes and sizes. If the circumstances are right, if the temptation is great enough, anyone—including you, including me—can be seduced by the lure of power.
In his book Jesus Loves Me, pastor and author Calvin Miller describes the trap he calls “the power addiction”:
"One of the hardest things to relinquish is our need to run things: power! We all seem to crave it at times. Why? It allows us to control others, but our appetite for power wars against Jesus’ love.
Desiring power we are most unlike Jesus! Power would allow us to avenge ourselves on those who mistreat us. How differently Jesus handled this appetite. Should we ever stand before Pilate, we would want to see how he would look in a crown of thorns. Let us put Herod on the cross and ask him how he likes it.
Want power? Be careful! What horrors are bound up in the power addiction. . . . We break our addiction to power by relinquishing it. Thus we are kept from the perverted need to love ourselves."5
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