The power of life versus the power of death

By Colin M. Morris
12 Apr 2007

Two dramas were played out in the run up to Easter, both of them in the Middle East, and though they were two thousand years apart, the one casts light upon the other - in each case the issue was power, how it should be used and to what end.

Christians have just re-visited the drama of Holy Week when Jesus on trial faced the might of the Roman Empire, a clash between two forms of power: that of Pilate - power over people, compulsion, the power of death; and Jesus' power, power through people, persuasion, the power of life.

We saw the change from the one kind of power to the other in the invasion of Iraq, it all began with the ultimate aim of winning hearts and minds, the power of persuasion, then it degenerated into what was called Shock and Awe, with predictable consequences.

A similar choice faced the government when the Royal Navy boat crews were captured. Which should it be - compulsion or persuasion, military response or patient diplomacy? Well, when all the post mortems and enquiries are over, and the contingent media issues are forgotten, I believe the Government's wisdom will be vindicated in recognising that sometimes it is not only the most ethical but also the most effective use of power to refrain from using it.

The same week with comparatively little publicity, and in the teeth of her President's bellicose rhetoric damning Syria as part of the axis of evil, Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, visited that country to investigate the possibility of talks between Syria and Israel - a brave attempt to use persuasion where threats of compulsion would undoubtedly fail.

This world is now much too dangerous for trigger-happy, impatient leadership. One of the lessons of Easter is that ultimate power, God's power is always constrained by his patience.

Colonel Robert Ingersoll was a prominent American opponent of Christianity. His party trick was to quote the Bible, curse God, take out a pocket watch and defy the Almighty to strike him dead in five minutes. It worked a treat until the evening someone in the audience called out, "Does Colonel Ingersoll imagine he can exhaust the patience of God in five minutes?"

When a great power exercises patience, this is not weakness but magnanimity, and by allowing for the dignity and self-respect of those with whom it is at odds, it may well turn enemies into allies and spare the world much suffering and misery.

© Colin M. Morris is a former President of the Methodist Conference and has held senior positions in the BBC. He was Director of the Centre for Religious Communication in Oxford from 1991-96, and is author of numerous books, including, most recently Things Shaken - Things Unshaken (reflections on faith and terror) and Bible Reflections Round the Christian Year. Dr Morris is a frequent contributor to BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day, in which form this article was originally broadcast. Reproduced with grateful acknowledgement to the author and the BBC.

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