“… what is the immeasurable greatness of His power for us who believe, according to the working of His great power. God put this power to work in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:19-20).
Among the various things the Apostle Paul prays for the Ephesians to know through the enlightenment of their hearts is the power of God. The greatest demonstration of this power, according to Paul, would seem to be the resurrection and ascension of the crucified Christ. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to meditate at some length about the way God’s power is shown through what happens to Christ.
What is power? This definition may be circular, but perhaps we can say that power is that which makes it possible for a person to accomplish their desires and wishes, to achieve what they will. There is a power I have over my own body, as when my limbs function and I can move them about in order to manipulate my environment. Then there is also power I might have over the bodies of others, as when they recognize my authority and do what I say. On this analysis, power would seem to be something neutral. What makes power good or bad is the character and purposes of the person who wields it: if my desires are good, then the power I have to fulfill them is good; but if my desires are bad, then my power is also bad, or at the very least it would seem bad that I have such power.
Because power has to do with the fulfillment of purposes and desires, the use of power says a lot about the character of the powerful person. A tyrant is someone who uses his power for his own personal gain. What can we say about God’s power, then, at least insofar as it is demonstrated in Christ’s resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven?
One conclusion we might draw is that God makes use of His power for the undoing of evil. Christ, who was the only truly innocent man in history, was put to death unjustly and undeservedly. And of course putting another to death is the worst thing that another human being can do; beyond the destruction of the body, a human being cannot accomplish any further harm, as Christ Himself says. When God raises Christ from the dead, He shows His own sovereignty over the world and the justice of His rule; He does not allow the innocent to suffer irreversibly, but intervenes and restores the proper moral order of things.
Through Christ’s ascension into heaven, we might also think that God has it within His power to put the innocent out of harm’s way forever, as well as to establish the rule of justice. If He is in heaven, then Christ can no longer suffer directly at the hands of sinners. Furthermore, His rule over the created order is invulnerable to their revolt. God’s power, in other words, is a power for the definitive defeat of sin and evil.
As Paul insists, this same power of God at work in us who believe. If God can give life to the dead and can lift up the human being to heaven, then He can also do any number of wondrous things in our midst. He can heal the sick, He can help the needy, He can wake sinners from their slumber, He can provide what is lacking, and furthermore — this is most important! — He is of such a character as to do it. The death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ took place for our sakes. God has nothing to gain from any of this, since He is perfect in Himself and lacks nothing. He does all these things for our sakes, and thus we can dare to ask for His help in the problems and dilemmas and struggles and sufferings in which we find ourselves. His great power can save us from anything.
But what if God should choose not to save us from the thing which we are suffering, at least not for a time? We must also remember that, though God gives us good things, it is not appropriate to conceive of God as a kind of cosmic genie who grants our wishes simply because we ask. We must not value anything above God, even if we ask God to provide us with all sorts of things. As Augustine said, God alone is to be loved for His own sake, and everything else is to be loved for God’s sake. And if God determines that we should suffer some thing, even if only for a time, faith and piety demand that we humbly submit ourselves to God’s will and to accept from Him the things which He has determined to give us.