Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Godly Man is not a Slave

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds
                                           -Bob Marley, Redemption Song

It occurred to me that one of the hallmarks of the human condition is the struggle to discover who we are, and to become the person we want to be.  In today’s secular humanistic society, it seems that anything goes, and the choices of who we can choose to be is bewildering.  Consequently, most people choose not to choose and live a reactionary life, not taking the initiative to act to positively alter their lives or surroundings.  They merely exist, and react to their environment instead of acting on their environment.  This is not living, this is conscious death.

As a Christian, I have a guide as to how I should live my life in the Bible.  But all too often people use this guide as a very shallow instruction manual, and follow certain precepts from it without actually understanding what God intends for us.  To really understand what kind of persons God is trying to mold, we need to look at some of the heroes of the Bible, and what happened to them.

God does not want slaves.  The slave mentality is one in which the slaves limit themselves by their own self-imposed restrictions.  A slave uprising was a common fear among slave holders throughout history.  To prevent such an uprising as the Spartacus uprising of 73 BC, slaves are denied access to the knowledge that would reveal just how frail the control of the slavemaster is over the slaves.  Slavery is only possible when the will and hope of the slave to be free is broken.  Numbers chapters 13 and 14 gives an excellent and easy to read example in it’s narrative:

The LORD said to Moses,  "Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders."

When Moses sent them to explore Canaan, he said, "Go up through the Negev and on into the hill country. See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees on it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land."

At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land.  They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. They gave Moses this account: "We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan."

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, "We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it."

But the men who had gone up with him said, "We can't attack those people; they are stronger than we are." And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, "The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them."

All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron. . .and they said to each other, "We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt."

Joshua and Caleb, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, "The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the LORD is pleased with us, He will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them."

 [The Lord weighs in:] The LORD replied, "…As surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times- not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it. Since the Amalekites and Canaanites are living in the valleys, turn back tomorrow and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea.

“. . . In this desert your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb . . . and Joshua . . ..  As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. But you—your bodies will fall in this desert. Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the desert. For forty years—one year for each of the forty days you explored the land—you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you.” 

The Israelites were still thinking like slaves, not like freedmen.  God did not want to sponsor a nation of slaves who would constantly be turning to him to solve every problem for them.  He wanted free men who could stand on their own and act on their own, secure in the knowledge that God was on their side without pleading to him for help.  Consequently, the Israelites were doomed to stay in the desert until the last of the slaves who had escaped Egypt had died.  He points to Caleb and Joshua as the example of what real men are in the sight of the Lord, and rewards them with what he denies the rest of Israel.
This is a key point:  God does not want dependents.  He does not want slaves.  We are free men, capable of making our own choices, and our own mistakes.  God wants us as willing partners in our own lives, choosing to follow in his path of our own free will and in the full knowledge that the choice is ours. 

What are you a slave to?  What bonds prevent you from realizing the plans God has made for you? 

Some people are a slave to their addictions.  Drugs, alcohol, sex, money.  Addictions shape our actions and motivations towards the satisfaction of these addictions, and thus rob us of free will. 

Some people are slaves to power.  The acquisition and maintenance of temporal power over other people is as powerful a narcotic as any opiate.  By gaining power over other people, be it physical, financial, political or emotional, you also become a target for other people who seek that same power.  To maintain your position of power, you may often be placed in a position of making choices that you would not consider otherwise if you weren’t seeking to establish or maintain power.  This limits your freedom of action, and may preclude you from making choices that may be proper but would sacrifice power.

Some people have become slaves to dependence.  When it’s easier to allow someone to care for you and make decisions for you, you forfeit the ability to call yourself your own person.  Reliance on the government to provide for your needs, be it food, housing or medical care, robs you of the independence to make your own way, and to greet your fellow man with the full knowledge that he is no better or worse than you are.  It’s the yearning of every man’s soul to produce something, and those who willingly forgo production and allow society to provide their needs become parasites.  If you are a parasite, you should consider how this affects your relationship with God.

Some people are slaves to their own doubts and fears.  These limitations are self-imposed restrictions.  This is the type of slavery that the Israelites were conditioned to, and which God actively suppressed.  Even after experiencing first hand the power of God on their behalf, the Israelites doubted their abilities, so God left them to die in the desert, so that this self defeating way of thinking would die with them.  Succumbing to this slavery robs people of self-confidence, and forces them to retreat from challenges that God expects his people to stand up and face with the knowledge that he is at their back, supporting them.   From the standpoint of a parent, I am thinking about the child that takes counsel of their fears, and doesn’t join the games of the other children.  We want that child to overcome their fears, because we know that they would have more fun in doing so, and we recognize that the ability to overcome fear and face a challenge is necessary in adult life.

Some people have made themselves slaves to God.  Fundamentalists, the Scribes and Pharisees,  these people follow a mindless, slavish devotion to the exact letter of the law of God, forgetting that the law was made for Man, not Man for the Law.  Do you follow the laws of your church blindly, secure in your righteousness?  A rigid interpretation and execution of the law can lead to the very wickedness the law attempts to prevent.  Jesus taught us through example that the law is to be applied with compassion and thoughtfulness, not forced at the point of a sword.  Fundamentalist righteousness can lead to pride, and such pride is misplaced when it is because you adhere to the law for the law’s sake.  The man who observes the law because his character would do so with or without the law takes no pride in his observance.  This is the man prized by God.

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
                                                -Revelation 3:15-16

None of this means that you must sacrifice your character or identity.  On the contrary, conquering your demons of slavery will release your character, and allow you to stand up and look men in the eye.  God is not interested in souls who do not have opinions or passions.  Consider the audacity of Abraham to negotiate with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah!  God wants passionate people, who will express their opinions and fight for what they think is right!  Recall the passion Jesus displayed when he took a whip and drove the moneychangers from the temple!

We have been duped in the west into a liberal framework of thought from the misinterpretation of our religion which has emasculated our culture.  There is no commandment that prohibits lying.  The injunction was not to bear false witness, which is a very specific and particularly heinous form of a lie.  Yet throughout history our western moral code has held that the truth must be told, even when it does more damage than a lie would.  There is no injunction against killing.  The original Hebrew commandment said that you shall not murder.  Murder is a specific, premeditated killing without sufficient cause. 
God does not want people who will whimper and cringe when wrong is done to them.  He prefers people who are capable of standing up and looking their oppressors in the eye, and declaring that “If you lay a hand on me or mine, I will kill you!”  Jesus taught us in the sermon on the mount to be humble, be meek, to turn the other cheek; but taken in the context of the Old Testament, he meant for us to do so from a position of strength and confidence, not submission. 

The prime example of the godly man is King David.  King David was confident and self-assured.  He was not arrogant, and recognized that sometimes it’s better to retreat from a situation which presents a lose-lose solution.  The Davidic story serves as the basis for the Arthurian metaphor.  As long as David followed what he knew to be the path God had chosen, Israel prospered.  When David deviated from that path to satisfy his own desires and ambitions, Israel suffered.

It’s my belief that much of the suffering in the world today is because we have strayed so far off the path that we’re not even sure where it is any more.  Before we find the path to the promised land, we first have to divest ourselves of our slave mentalities.

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