Christianity Today editor Andy Crouch has a new book out, Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power (IVP Books, 2013). WORLD’s current issue includes my interview with him, but here are a few questions we didn’t have room for in the magazine.
On page 33 of your book you write, “God’s creative act brings forth not carefully regimented sets of creatures but swarms of them. ‘Swarming’ and ‘teeming’ are part of what makes the world good, the overflow and excess of life.” Don’t population control advocates see teeming as a problem? How do we renew this biblical sense of things bursting out all over? Because we’re made in the image of God, humans have a built-in attraction to abundance and diversity. It’s working incredibly uphill to convince people that the abundance of human beings is a problem. Arguments driven by fear and a scarcity mentality do not reflect the way we were created to live in and foster abundance. But we’ve bought into these “scarcity stories,” so we need to start telling “abundance stories” again.
What’s an abundance story that should be told? One U.K. biologist has shown that the biological diversity of the rain forest is the result of humans being in the rain forest for eons: Their cultivation of it created more ecological layers and niches and led to the abundance that we see and value in the rain forest. The pre-human British Isles were just a monoculture of oak trees, but humans come, settle, and create beauty. All those hedgerows and stone walls create an abundance of niches which leads to, among other things, more species of birds, pound for pound, than any other place in the world.
The Brits are enthusiastic birdwatchers … They have so many birds to watch. It’s human beings tending the British Isles that led to this incredible diversity and abundance. Many people think, “Wherever human beings go, you have loss of species abundance.” No, when human beings do what they’re meant to do, you get diversity and teaming. We have to tell that story, and live in ways that are consonant with that.
Let’s turn to page 45: “So far from being absolutely corrupted by the absolute power parenthood confers over a human being, parents find themselves awakening to new capacities for resilience, sacrifice and servanthood than they know they had before.” So, parenting gives us a good view of power and the good uses of power. Yeah, that’s the falsifier for Lord Acton’s dictum about corrupting power. Because, if there’s anyone in my whole life that I’ve had something very close to absolute power over, it’s my children when they were small, when they were infants—incredible amounts of power at a physical level, not to mention an emotional and spiritual level. Did I handle that power perfectly? No. Was I absolutely corrupted or nearly absolutely corrupted by that absolute power? No. I’m a far better human being for having been entrusted with that power.
When children become teenagers, parents lose that absolute power and some mourn the loss for reasons of love, but others because they’ve misused power … The more I’m transformed by love, the more, perhaps, I can be trusted with certain kinds of power that I could not be trusted with otherwise. There is an incredible example of this that is somewhat painful to bring up. We know the abuse of children, both physical and sexual, is a real problem in our society and in every society. But often what we do not disaggregate is that the abuse of children happens overwhelmingly at the hands of stepparents, especially at the hands of stepfathers. One of the most vulnerable things to be is a young child with a stepfather in the house, unfortunately—not every stepfather, of course, since most stepfathers are very loving, but because, statistically speaking, there is a situation of great intimacy, authority, and power without the kind of love that a biological father will have for his child. That severing of the link between that kind of intrinsic love and power is a perilous thing for parents and children.
God links love and power. Books on political campaigns typically portray the excitement of creating a winning campaign, followed by a morning-after reaction: “We’ve won, now what?” You don’t get that sense from God—that He creates the universe and then says, “What do we do now?” Once you’ve arrived at power you’re exposed to much more risk than you had before, and as those risks play out you become accountable for suffering and bearing more than you did before. If we think we can just push the levers and things will happen, we have a very sub-biblical picture of what power is, because that’s not at all what power has been like for the Creator God in relation to His creation.