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The Root of Grace

Our Powerlessness and the Power of God

Eberhard Arnold

Available languages: Deutsch, Español, 한국어, العربية, Français

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  • Dan Grubbs

    Long comment to follow. What a "powerful" piece. And, I would venture to guess that Mr. Arnold would say that it was a grace of God that granted him the wisdom and ability to articulate these salient ideas and not his own power. I appreciate Miss Salone's question as it caused deeper contemplation of the writing. It is my debatable understanding that Mr. Arnold was not only talking about ego, but a much more inclusive idea of the ability (power) of a human to do or achieve something, especially in God's kingdom. Several families may form a group and eventually even construct a building and they meet regularly where scripture is taught and their numbers grow. But, it is only God who can build a church among them. As I see it, these hypothetical families are utterly and completely powerless to build a church. They cannot will a church into existence no matter how they may try. Only God can build a church among people. However, He may do so through the equipping of believers with spiritual gifts and then the nudging of believers to use those gifts for His church. What initially came to mind as I read the piece is the ultimate powerlessness we have to save ourselves. But, as I have reflected on this, I'm curious about the various Hebrew and Greek terms we now translate as "power" in the Bible, which I have to believe is part of Mr. Arnold's inspiration for these ideas. The nuance of meaning, especially in Hebrew, is lost when we have a word in English that could mean so many different things. Therefore, what was in the mind of Mr. Arnold when he wrote this piece, maybe we can infer from the context. What I believe he was getting at was the idea of ability, not the idea of force or authority. These are distinctively different words in both Hebrew and Greek in the scriptures where the subtly of difference is important to understanding. As I wrote above, I believe Mr. Arnold was talking about our inability to do or achieve things, but the achievements are only by God. He may achieve them through humans, but without God, these achievements are not possible for man. As humbling as that is to think of being powerless, it's the best position to be in. It is then, and only then, can we experience the deep relationship that A.W. Tozer wrote about when he penned, "God formed us for His pleasure, and so formed us that we as well as He can in divine communion enjoy the sweet and mysterious mingling of kindred personalities. He meant us to see Him and live with Him and draw our life from His smile." If we think, in our deepest of hearts, that we are achieving, we are not and things progress to darkness. When we submit to His will and providence, He is achieving through us. Grace indeed.

  • Patty Salone

    When Eberhard talks about the dismantling of our own power, is he referring to our ego? I am struggling with the word power and powerlessness in his remarks....

On his fiftieth birthday on July 26, 1933, when Eberhard Arnold gave a talk to members of the Bruderhof community that he and his wife and sister-in-law had founded, he surprised his listeners. Instead of looking back at what he had accomplished, he saw only his own human weakness and pointed his audience to One who is truly great:

On this day I have been especially conscious of my lack of ability and of how unsuited my own nature is to the work I have been given, remembering how God called me when I was only sixteen years old and how I have stood in his way, with the result that so much of what God must have wanted to do by his instruments has not been possible. It remains a miracle that his work of the Church community and the Holy Spirit is nevertheless revealed and mightily testified to, in us feeble human beings – not through our merits, but because we are accepted time and time again through the grace of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins.

One thing concerns me very much: our powerlessness. Only God is mighty; we are completely powerless. Even for the work that has been given us, we are wholly without power. We cannot fit even a single stone into the church community. We can provide no protection whatsoever for the community when it has been built up. We cannot even devote anything to God’s cause by our own power. We are completely without power. But I believe that just this is the only reason God has called us into community: we know we are powerless.

It is very hard to give an account of how it has come about that all of us, especially we older members of the community, know we are so completely powerless. It is hard to describe how all our own power is stripped off us, how our own power has been dropped, dismantled, torn down, and put away. What I wish for our younger members is this same realization, that the dismantling of your own power might be carried out to its full extent. That is not attained so easily and does not happen through a single heroic decision. God must do it in us.

This is the root of grace: the dismantling of our own power. Only to the degree that all our own power is dismantled will God be able to give the fruits of the Spirit and build up his kingdom through us, in us, and among us. There is no other way. If a little power of our own were to rise up among us, the Spirit and authority of God would retreat in the same moment and to the corresponding degree. In my estimation that is the single most important insight with regard to the kingdom of God. How it actually happens is hard to say. It is as hard to speak of this as it is to speak of the mystic source of all things. The only thing that can be said is that the Holy Spirit produces effects that are deadly for the old life and that at the same time have a wakening and rousing power for the new life which comes from Christ and his Holy Spirit alone.

Let us then give glory to God. Let us pledge to him that all our own power will remain dismantled, and will keep on being dismantled among us. Let us pledge that the only thing that will count among us will be the power and authority of God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit; that it will never again be we that count, but that God alone will rule and govern in Christ and the Holy Spirit. That means we declare our dependence upon grace. This is the testimony we are required to give. Everything we have is the unmerited gift of God. God can give this unmerited gift only to people in whom their own claims and special rights have been dismantled. And for this reason we acknowledge and ask for the grace that appeared in Jesus Christ and that comes to us in the Holy Spirit.


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Contributed By Eberhard Arnold Eberhard Arnold

Eberhard Arnold was a theologian, educator, publisher, and community leader.

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