There is one effect that cannot be the result of a direct application of force, and that is the maintenance of a relationship between free persons.
If my child chooses not to cooperate with me, if my wife chooses not to live with me, there is no right-handed power on earth that can make them toe the line of relationship I have chosen to draw in the sand. I can dock my son’s allowance, for example, or chain him to a radiator; or in anger at my wife, I can punch holes in the Sheetrock or beat her senseless with a shovel. In short, I can use any force that comes to hand or mind, and yet I cannot cause either of them, at the core of their being, to stop their wrongs and conform to my right. The only power I have by which to do that is left-handed power – which for all practical purposes will be indistinguishable from weakness on my part. It is the power of my patience with them, of my letting their wrong be – even if that costs me my rightness or my life – so that they, for whose reconciliation I long, may live for a better day of their own choosing.
My point here is twofold. The power of God that saves the world was revealed in Jesus as left-handed power; and therefore any power that the church may use in its God-given role as the sacrament of Jesus must also be left-handed. Despite the fact that God’s Old Testament forays into the thicket of fallen human nature were decided right-handed (plagues, might acts, stretched-out-arm exercises, and thunderous threats) – and despite Jesus’ occasional use of similar tactics in the Gospels – the final act by which God reconciles the world to himself consists of his simply dropping dead on the cross and shutting up on the subject of sin.
He declares the whole power game won by losing, and he invites the world just to believe that absurd proposition.