Interpretation of Power in the Theological Framework

In the Bible, Paul says, “Power is made perfect in weakness.” The contradictory idea of strength through weakness is one of the most vital and highlighted themes of the Bible. Right from Abraham to the most popular example of Jesus, people who laid their dependence on God and acknowledged their own weaknesses were used by the Divine to be granted strength through weakness. Two millennia later, people are still trying to come in terms with Paul’s statements to derive the ultimate interpretation of power and powerlessness in the theological framework.

These “people” could be therapists who perform complicated surgeries on patients or nurses who deal with the death and suffering of children and adults in Intensive Care Units on a regular basis. Now, the question is how do these individuals deal with situations when they do not have the strength to do things they desire the most? According to findings, quite like the characters from the Bible, such individuals successfully recognized their inner weaknesses and accredited the definition of suffering as the part of a divine plan.

Understanding of Power through Gerkin’s Model

The quest to understand the power in a theological framework brought forth several theories and projects. One such prominent work was a project delving into the works of a primary theologian, Charles V. Gerkin. An author of five books and several influential articles, Gerkin was a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) supervisor and pastoral care theologian in a career spanning over 3 decades.

  • Comprehending Power and Its Limitations 

His studies mostly spoke of the feeling of powerlessness and how important it is for people to have a thorough understanding of their power. Understanding the dynamics of one’s own power is a twofold process. The first part includes learning how to understand and make use of the unique power present within in relation to the surrounding people. The second part is the acceptance of the existential limits of this power. Gerkin’s model emphasizes the fact that there is a limitation to the power they possess. While there can be situations when you get to exercise a great deal of power, often there is a certain point when you experience a pervading feeling of powerlessness. When humans fail to accept the limitations of their power, they eventually feel broken. Gerkin brings forth his realization that mature individuals must essentially understand their power, accept their powerlessness, and dedicate themselves to divine power. 

  • Relevance and Sustenance of Pastoral Care

According to Gerkin, the relevance of pastoral care lies in embodying God and extensions of God’s divine care. Once the pastors have attained all insights and done their part, they finally become dependent on God’s divine power. Therefore, God becomes the ultimate way to sustain pastoral care. The pastors begin to play an active part in the task that God is already performing. 

The core methodology of pastoral care deals with a pastor’s ability to get a hold of the depth of the experiences undergone by their parishioners. They act as a bridge between the stories of Christ and the true stories of the lives of people. This is where the role of pastoral counsellors come into play. Pastoral counsellors delve into and detect the theological issues in the lives of their clients that primarily cause the crisis.  

Gerkin’s Models for Pastoral Care

Gerkin states that pastoral care can be of great help in the restoration of a parishioner’s sense of divine care during the time of extreme crisis. As an explanation for this ministry, he proposed three distinct models. The models have been designed to portray incarnation, shepherding and God’s disclosure. 

Model 1: Representation of the Power of God

The first model describes pastors to be a representative of God and his divine powers. People often tend to deny the presence of God or rather accept his absence during times of grave crisis. Pastors, in such situations, are bestowed with the responsibility to come across as a symbol of divinity and restore the faith of individuals in God. People, during their times of crisis, cling on to the belief that God has left them to their suffering as Jesus was left to his. The pastor, thus, is now his human representation. 

Model 2: Himself vs Godself

In the next model, Gerkin proposes that there is a ray of hope that God might make himself known. This, in fact, comes across as a determinant for the restoration of faith among parishioners and convinces them to believe in His divine care. There are times when people who place their trust in God forget that there are situations beyond their abilities with which they might have to cope. Pastors help them discover hope and belief in God’s disclosure. This helps them gain an immediate sense of divinity during the crisis. 

Model 3: Developing A Relationship Akin to Shepherds

The final model comes across as an encouragement to pastors to develop relationships as shepherds with parishioners where they can help them through the life-changing crisis they are in. It is an accepted fact that coping with crisis involves transformation. A crisis is often the initiator of change, which subsequently brings about transformation.

This is the most commonly accepted theory of how God functions in the lives of people and in the surrounding world. Gerkin highlights the fact that pastoral counselors are not just describers of stories or observers of events. They are, in fact, active virtual participants of every event. In fact, they are active virtual participants of every event. Though it is not within their complete power to transform the lives of individuals, it is through them that God functions and creates new realities.

Takeaway

The above model does not advocate the fact that pastors need to strip themselves of all power to alter the situations around them. Instead, they are active models who help people realize that power has its limitations. The grace that comes along with acceptance becomes essential when it comes to caring for people. Nevertheless, all of it comes at the cost of pastors witnessing ethical, lifestyle, and existential issues in the lives of people they serve. 

Theory of Gregory the Great

Another theory explaining this concept of power was put forward by the noted theologian, Pope Gregory the Great through his work, The Book of Pastoral Care. As a pope, Gregory the Great stated that there must be a proper balance of responsibilities and powers between the spiritual and secular.

·         Division between Spiritual Leadership and Secular Authority

Gregory the Great propagated the theory of division between spiritual leadership and secular authority. As per his realization, the emperor or leader was God’s assumed representative for secular authorities. On the other hand, religious affairs are supposed to be taken care of by church leaders. The focus on individual spheres was preferred. Nevertheless, religious leaders are portrayed as representatives of the innocent and weak and display power for taking proper steps to protect those who are treated wrongfully.

·         Christ – The True Pastor

Another theory put forward by Gregory the Great states that Christ was the actual true Pastor. Pastors reflect God’s care which is manifested through them. Thus, pastoral care is mostly about striking a balance between the internal feelings of people and outward change in behavior. The concept of displaying pastoral power has been segregated into two parts. One provides you with temporary relief, making you feel better in a crisis. The other part deals with reforming the behavioral responses of people on a long-term basis. Gregory advocated the fact that pastors should take necessary steps to implement positive changes in the lives of people to bring in abundant happiness.

·         His Idea of Pastoral Authority

Gregory puts across his idea that the authenticity of a pastor can be paradoxically proven by their humble service where one can use Jesus as a model. In his elaboration on pastoral authority, he states that pastors are not equal to their parishioners when it comes to understanding and providing solutions. However, caring for human souls bridges the gap between them, and creates a basic state of equality between them. In doing so, pastoral authority can bring a sense of pride within pastors, where after a certain span of time they can begin to think too highly of themselves. 

Gregory the Great’s Warnings for Pastors

To avoid the misuse of pastoral power, Gregory the Great puts across certain warnings for pastors.

·         Avoidance of Solely Advocating for Parishioners

The pastors are warned against simply advocating for the wants and demands of parishioners. Pastors must also guide parishioners in terms of things that they ought to want. It should be the duty of a pastor to let people know and draw them towards the truth. In case a pastor works with the idea of pleasing people, it should be for the sole purpose of strengthening trust.  

·         Pastoral Activism

He then warns people against the vices of pastoral activism. According to him, pastoral activism draws from the surrounding worldly crises. It is mostly ignorant of the turmoil that individuals face from within. Focusing on spiritual formation and inner discipline can prove to be quite beneficial, rather than wearing out oneself through overt actions and activities. 

The studies of Gregory the Great and Gerkin were chosen for reasons of their own. Each of these theologians have their own concept of both power and powerlessness. Apart from these, the studies put across by them are applicable to all kinds of pastoral care provided by army chaplains as well as common people like nurses, doctors, and teachers. Their thoughts can be a great way of helping people to clarify their own identities. However, the most important reason remains that all these ideas and insights have been accepted by the best minds across the globe and have stood the test of time.

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References: 

Demacopoulos, G. (2007). St. Gregory the Great: The book of pastoral rule. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.


Gerkin, C. (1979). Crisis experience in modern life: Theory and theology for pastoral care. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Gerkin, C. V. (1980). Power and powerlessness in clinical pastoral education. Journal of Pastoral Care, 34(2), 114-124. 

 Oden, 1984, p 10

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