To Turn, And Toddle: More On Love And Power

“…whoever does not turn and become like a toddler…”

When Jesus enjoins childlikeness it has nothing to do with their “innocence”. Modern exegetes just insert “innocence” into this passage in an unthinking reflex. Jesus is indeed talking about “humility”, for sure, but from the context here and other passages (see Paul in Romans 12, for one) the point of biblical humility is to know your place. (“Humility” is another word we’ve simply replaced with a proxy. We insert something like “feel like a wretch”. There is a place and time to feel like a wretch, but it has nothing to do with humility.)

Back to childlikeness…children are clear about one thing, and that is that they know they are not adults, and are content in that. Humility, here, is to be happily in a parent’s control. The essence of childhood is to be controlled by someone else; when you begin to control yourself, you are an adult.

Jesus is attacking power here. And by “power” I mean the desire to control. Biblically, this desire to control is the primal Satanic infraction, and it runs like a black thread through human history, to me, you, and now. The desire for rank, the love of money — all attitudes condemned in the NT are arguably forms of one passion, the wish to control, rather than be controlled. Money, for example, is meaningless outside its function as the ability to control your life. “Freedom” is accurate too — money gives freedom, and to be free from some things is good (freedom from hunger, for one), but the bible has no sympathy for the accomplishment of freedom from childlike dependance on God.

So, turn and become a child. That is, gladly take God’s control like a child gladly reposes within the parent’s control.


Beyond this immediate point: the desire for control is always bad, and is opposed to love, and control and love are irreconcilable, like night and day. That which you love you will seek to not control.

A parent does need to control the child he loves, but the entire point of parental work is to work yourself out of a job by ceding control to the adult child, in love’s fufillment. Even in parenting, love seeks to not control. “Love” that does not work to cede control is pathological, and pathogenic.

It is deceptively hard to give up the desire to control and not clutch. The clutch is our instinct. But not only is it difficult simply to do, it skews cognition. The person you clutch you will not know. Love is the mode of knowledge between persons; clutching both closes the subject’s spiritual eye and forces the object to veil itself. The ostensible lovers, when one clutches, do not, in the most literal sense, see each other. They recede.

The purpose of political speech is to get or hold power — control of the money, control of the sex, control of the guns, control of the lightbulbs. The desire to get power corrupts absolutely. No, deeper than that; it issues from the primal corruption, and corrupts further in an endless spiral of the moral equivalent of bloodshed. The person so desiring has already lusted in his heart and has rendered himself incapable of loving any object in the same field of vision.

Politics does some good, just like the parent does good by forcing the child away from the fire or toward the altar. But force is such a limited and transitory good that a child that did not graduate from it would eventually be labeled a freak. The political activist is content to treat citizens like his own unwilling children, forever, and is morally stunted enough to feel accomplished doing it.

This all usually prompts some objection that it is too absolutist. But, ask yourself: did Jesus assign any value above zero to political activity? No. Love and power have nothing to say to each other. Where one grows the other dies.

(None of this is to argue that it is always good to be controlled, or always bad to control something or someone. Really, don’t be that simplistic.)

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