An old adage claims that "power corrupts." As witnesses of the frailty in powerful people near and far, most of us would agree. We might even sense the danger of it in our own hearts.
To double-check on that danger, we remember these words:
" … it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion."
A "little authority" can be a lethal dose. It needn't even be legitimate or real. It can be fluffy or imagined — merely authority "as they suppose."
In no time at all — "as soon as" the supposed power is felt, "immediately" — the corruption may "begin." Beginnings are often microscopic. Arrogance isn't obvious in its microbial stage, least of all to its host. Humans need time to dull down. Toxins of pride can seep in deeply only if they seep in slowly.
However, when God speaks of "unrighteous dominion" — the hard, blind, self-interested leadership that infects many powerful men — surely he implies there is dominion of another sort: truly, fully righteous.
"Almost" is an important word in that revelation. Power can corrupt, but it doesn't have to. It has almost all, but not all of those to whom its privileges have come.
The Old Testament recounts, until the reader is sick at heart, the folly of king after king. They knew the storied and stellar pattern of their uncorrupted fathers, such as Adam or Melchizedek or Abraham. The blood of righteous dominion flowed in the veins of Israel's royalty. The very fact of kingship bestowed a kingly degree of choice.
So it was with King Saul. At first, he was "a choice young man. … There was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he." Perhaps a subtle wisdom stirred him as the hour approached for his appointment. While the people waited to hail this impressive new potentate, "he hid himself among the stuff." What deep warnings came to him while he crouched there, shielded momentarily from the dangerous privileges ahead? But alas, his fans "ran and fetched him thence. … And the people shouted and said, God save the king."
Despite all the noisy optimism, God at last did not save that king. How can a Savior who preserved our moral freedom at the expense of his own infinite suffering, save any of us against our will? In the process of reaching his height of power — power to do most anything he desired — Saul's desires corrupted. Humility and authority corroded into vanity and insanity.
Impulse by impulse, microbe by microbe, the toxins seeped in and killed a once-goodly heart.
The Old Testament tells of others like Saul. But it describes a few like Josiah, "that turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might," and continued so all his days.
And of the kingly line there eventually arose one greater — far greater — than Josiah. This was he who gives to kings, and to all of us, such powers and privileges as test each soul.
It was he who, after his own test, "ascended into heaven, to sit down on the right hand of the Father, to reign with almighty power."
Power — even absolute power — need not corrupt. In Christ we see the secret to righteous dominion. It is simple: He uses it, not to do his own will, but "to do the will of the Father."
(References: 1 Samuel 9:5, 10:22-23; 2 Kings 23:25; D&C 20:24; 121:39)
Wayne E. Brickey, who lives in Gallatin, Mo., is a retired Church Educational System teacher and curriculum writer and has been a tour guide to Holy Land and Mormon history sites.