The Left Hand of God

by Pearl Grace Chen on November 9, 2012


The Left Hand of God

                                                                By Pearl Grace Chen

The Left Hand of God is a phrase coined by Martin Luther, in an attempt to illustrate the diversity of how God’s power is exercised both throughout the Biblical narrative and in our lives today. The right hand power of God has historically (in Scripture) denoted the irresistible power of God to accomplish and carry out his will. Examples of God’s right hand include Noah’s Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, The Parting of the Red Sea, et al. The idea of God’s left handed power is a different expression—expressed indirectly, paradoxically, in a way that seems like weakness and defeat of God’s cause and his people, yet ultimately establishes his victory in a way no other kind of expression could. The crucifixion of Christ is the classic example of God exercising his “left hand”.

The polarity between our preference of instantaneous results and the patience required to know the power of God’s left hand oftentimes leads us become out-of-step with what God is doing in the world today. It becomes dangerous when God’s right-handed power is all that we value, recognize and appreciate. We will end up overvaluing numbers, money, visible power, obvious success: in ourselves, in one another, and ultimately, in God. When operating from this “right hand only” framework, we can easily fall into the trap of thinking that bigness is also what God values. Ironically, Jesus portrays his kingdom as something small and inconspicuous—something no one would predict to be powerful. The image of the kingdom in the Gospels is a seed that falls into the ground and dies, disappearing before it even produces anything.

In his Incarnation and life, Jesus actively resists becoming the right-handed figure. His resistance toward becoming a Superman is evidenced in his responses to temptation and ultimately, his submission to an unjust and violent execution. Our theology forgets that God’s greatest power can be at work in us at our deepest moments of failure, frustration, shame, disappointment, and unanswered prayer. The kingdom of God manifests itself most deeply through apparent weakness, for only in human weakness can God’s greatness stand alone, unconfused by our own power. In moments of our own strength, we forget our limitations and the power of God can seem superfluous to us. An internal posture of humility is necessary to produce real spiritual growth within God’s paradoxical wisdom; for God to teach us humility is to teach us who we really are (examine God’s response to Job). When the Christian experiences tremendous suffering, he is not experiencing the powerlessness or absence of God but rather, the power of God in a different way than he is used to identifying and experiencing power. What God wanted to accomplish required his Son to become a human servant, descending to humiliation and death—but ultimately he rises again to new life. Both the right and left hand are forms of divine power: both are able to get things done.Right-handed power can insist on obedience and justice, but it does not change people. Left-handed power cannot bring forth immediate justice, but it can move hearts to God. Right-handed power brings order—left hand power transforms lives.