Peter Parker learned an important lesson from his Uncle Ben: If you have power, use it for doing good. The lesson is simple enough, but is there not a contradiction here? Can power and goodness coexist? Today, “power” often brings to mind the vicious realities of oppressive dictatorships, corrupt politics, heartless bullying, and abusive relationships—an association which is understandable for those who have themselves experienced the tyrannical abuse of power. Using one’s power for selfish ends is precisely the kind of action that Uncle Ben warns against. Unfortunately, God, who is all-powerful, is sometimes seen as using his power in this self-centered way.
In Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Bl. Pope John Paul II describes the sentiment of perplexed believers:
Is it any wonder that even those who believe in one God, of whom Abraham was a witness, find it difficult to have faith in a crucified God? They hold that God can only be powerful and grandiose, absolutely transcendent and beautiful in His power, holy and inaccessible to man. [They say that] God can only be this!
John Paul points to the unfortunate perception of God as one who sits in heaven looking down on the world, throwing flashes of lightning as he pleases—a god who controls the world according to his own whims and fancies, all because he has the power to do so.
But this is not the God whom the Church has in mind when she professes, “I believe in one God, the Father almighty.” According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,
Of all the divine attributes, only God’s omnipotence is named in the Creed: to confess this power has great bearing on our lives. We believe that his might is universal, for God who created everything also rules everything and can do everything. God’s power is loving, for he is our Father, and mysterious, for only faith can discern it when “it is made perfect in weakness.” (CCC 268)
God has the power to do all things, but His power does not contradict his divine essence. God is infinite, unchanging, all good, all perfect, and all loving. Therefore the power of God is infinite, unchanging, all good, all perfect, and most especially all loving. According to Bl. John Paul, God’s power can only be understood in light of God’s wisdom, for human wisdom says,
He cannot be the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He cannot be Love that gives of Himself and that permits that He be seen, that He be heard, that He be imitated as a man, that He be bound, that He be beaten and crucified. This cannot be God!
Peter Parker (and his alter ego Spider-Man) learned from his uncle that, both as a man and as a crime-fighting superhero, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Uncle Ben exercised his power as Peter’s guardian and mentor by sharing his wisdom and love. In teaching Peter this lesson, Uncle Ben follows his own teaching, using his power for good. In an infinitely more perfect way, God, the all powerful and the almighty, exercises His power in love: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).
Image: Caravaggio, Crowning with Thorns