DOES POWER CORRUPT?

John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton
John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Does power corrupt men? Consider this famous quotation.

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men. — John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, first Baron Acton (from here)

Do you believe it? Some do not. Here is how an article at Smithsonian.com, Why Power Corrupts, ends.

In sum, the study found, power doesn’t corrupt; it heightens pre-existing  ethical tendencies. Which brings to mind another maxim, from Abraham  Lincoln: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s  character, give him power.” (from here)

According to wikiquote.org (see here), the quote by Abraham Lincoln is incorrectly attributed, but that is a relatively small error. What is important is the accuracy of the conclusion.

Matthew 9:10-13 English Standard Version (ESV)

10 And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

What is remarkable is the number of people who refuse to believe that they too are numbered among the sinners that Christ Jesus came to save. We are all sinners. We are all subject to temptation.

12 thoughts on “DOES POWER CORRUPT?

  1. I’m not sure where I read this; “Power corrupts, especially when it lacks station”. Makes you think of; the rude clerk behind the counter, the rent a cop, the kid your teacher left in charge when she went out of the room…etc.

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  2. I know that Satan has twisted the word power into force, dominance is very contrary to what God has proven to be in every instance. The power of God is His Authority, used under his influence and laws ~ man isn’t willing or humble enough to do things His way, therefore it is corruptible.

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      1. I believe he has corrupted humility as well ~ we tend to not acknowledge our gifts and talents as though that were humility when, it is acknowledging them we are able to give him the praise, give freely to others since He’s the source. Thank you for the link.

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        1. I agree with your observation, but I do not think it means that the definition of humility has changed. I think it just means people do not understand what makes someone humble.

          Here is the etymology.
          http://etymonline.com/index.php?term=humility&allowed_in_frame=0
          The etymological definition is basically secular. However, if you look hard enough you will find this.

          Humility
          a prominent Christian grace (Rom. 12:3; 15:17, 18; 1 Cor. 3:5-7; 2 Cor. 3:5; Phil. 4:11-13). It is a state of mind well pleasing to God (1 Pet. 3:4); it preserves the soul in tranquillity (Ps. 69:32, 33), and makes us patient under trials (Job 1:22).

          Christ has set us an example of humility (Phil. 2:6-8). We should be led thereto by a remembrance of our sins (Lam. 3:39), and by the thought that it is the way to honour (Prov. 16:18), and that the greatest promises are made to the humble (Ps. 147:6; Isa. 57:15; 66:2; 1 Pet. 5:5). It is a “great paradox in Christianity that it makes humility the avenue to glory.” (from http://dictionary.die.net/humility)

          The original source is Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary. Admittedly, even this definition somewhat misses the mark. The reference to Phil. 2:6-8 helps, but most of the other references point to humility as the opposite of pride. Yet when does pride become a problem? Even when we have a realistic assessment of our capabilities, and we take a leadership role, we can still be humble. We can still be obedient to God. Moses, for example, was humble.

          Because they will not study the Bible, secular society does not understand Christian humility. So secular society’s understanding of humility is skewed. Modern secular society thinks humility is just another word for modesty. It simply never occurs to someone who has not been born again to believe it is all about Christ Jesus. We exist to love and adore Him. Because He loves us, He makes our existence a joy.

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  3. How true it is …. how many of us do not see the need of Christ as our Savior? And sadly, how many of us who are saved, do not look to Him for guidance and enabling grace every day of our lives? Both are indications of a prideful attitude. Lord bless you Tom.

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    1. Thank you, and may the Lord bless you too.

      When I speak about things like this, I speak too much from experience. I was in my fifties before I took the time to read the Bible. Once I realized how stupid I had been not to read the Bible before then, I started studying both the Bible and primary source documents to learn the history of our nation. The powers that be hate it when we do that, and they hate it more when we encourage others to do the same. That makes reading the Bible and reading what the founders read and wrote vengeful I suppose. Nevertheless, I suspect that is the sort of vengeance God approves.

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  4. Very good stuff here, Tom. What is said in the post speaks to me on a personal level, I have often times felt that I have received the “short end of the stick” because I often concern myself with other in life, all the while I watch peers race past me to the “Finish line”. It can get discouraging but I often tell myself that life is also perception and as long as I can view through that lens it’ll be alright. Whenever I have a friend down on the subject I tell them life is like two stories, the first being the Tortoise and the Hare, and the second, The Good Samaritan. We may watch others pass us often in life while helping those who are been beaten from the thieves, but as long as we take our time and press forward together ultimately we’ll win the race in end.

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