By Eugene C. Scott
Oppression is chameleon. Throughout human history it has changed its color and adapted itself to every age and every need or right we humans must have. And it’s disguise is always—at first—beautiful, promising. This chameleon usually first promises us safety in a dangerous world, then maybe protection of beloved values, or true peace, or more food, or better wages, and even—paradoxically—freedom. Then somehow, slowly—maybe even unintentionally at times—it changes its color. The trap slams shut and we are caught.
The ancient Israelites came begging Egypt for safety from a famine and wound up enslaved for over 400 years. That was one expensive meal.
In 1789 the French Revolutionaries began an overthrow of a corrupt and absolute monarchy. Freedom, they cried. They wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Then only four years later the Committee of Public Safety began what is now called the Reign of Terror. Up to 40,00 people were killed. The dictator Napoleon followed.
The Russian Revolution in 1917 turned out worse, with an estimated 30 million killed by Stalin’s government. Communist China and North Korea, so-called democratic nations in Africa, and the theocracies of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran have followed suite. To name a few more recent oppressive chameleons. Even the theological American ideal of “manifest destiny” turned murderous.
What is the common denominator in all this oppression? Some today say religion. Others corporations. Some governments. And these are all elements to be sure. But religions, corporations, and governments are made up of people. You and me. Humans are the root of all this oppression.
We are each capable of wreaking it on others or releasing it in the name of getting something we think we need. When I visited that horrific reminder of human oppression, The Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, I realized it was not Nazis or Germans who killed six million Jews. Yes, the murderers wore Nazi uniforms and were mainly German. But beneath those uniforms they wore human skin. This the Bible calls sin. And on this level it is hard to deny.
The good news is we are also capable of resisting oppression. Freedom also comes in many different varieties. Though true freedom is never deceptive nor makes promises of mere safety. Some varieties of freedom come harder than others. With a cost.
Political, economic, religious, personal freedom are the most common freedoms we cry out for. But maybe the most precious freedom is one we avoid at almost all cost: The freedom to not be safe, to cry, to struggle, to suffer. This is the freedom Jesus chose as an expression of his love for us. He freely gave his life for you and me.
Note the difference? Oppression promises to give but really takes. And leaves us no choice in the matter. Only God gives expecting nothing in return. Because God needs nothing.
If anyone ever could become a demanding dictator it is God. Often our cries to God for safety, mere happiness, contentment, a cessation of pain and worry are just that, invitations for God to declare universal marshall law in the name of public safety. But how much more would God’s mighty fist crush us if mere humans such as Pharaoh, Napoleon, Stalin, and Hitler did such thorough work?
So God continually grants us the freedom to suffer. Knowing this then gives us the freedom to love and live as creatures of love.
The ancient Israelites were mud and brick, hard labor, economic slaves in Egypt for over 400 years. But when God tells Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go,’” their freedom is not escaping human oppression. God goes on to say, “Let my people go . . . so that they may worship me.” Worship is an expression of love. Soon enough, faced with a barren and dangerous desert, however, the people are crying out for the safety of Egypt. Give us the leeks and onions of Egypt they tell Moses.
Finally, as these people then stand on the edge of the “promised land” which contains not only “milk and honey” but suffering too, Joshua says, “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Those gods, like our gods of protective governments and human systems only take because they cannot give us what we truly need. The freedom to receive and give love.
This freedom is costly. But not as costly as choosing safety and other chameleon promises.
Eugene C. Scott is enjoying the freedom he has and is thankful for both the joy and the suffering it brings. He is also trying to see God in daily life, even in tragedy. Join him in the year The Year of Living Spiritually. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following that blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.
6 responses to “Freedom with a Twist”
Who is more free?,… the “carefree” child under the tender loving ever-watchful and guiding eye of the parent, or the parent who is making all the continual basic oversight decisions?,… we are so naturally interdependent on one another (and even “things” like gravity!) that this question of “freedom” becomes a little complicated from the get-go,…
“Die gedanken sind frei” is a German saying that means “The thoughts are free”,… which implies that no matter what type of “outer” (and possibly coercive) situation we might find ourselves in, we can always keep our own mind and opinions about things, even so,… perhaps it means that “we are free to disagree”,… Having the freedom/(being able) to disagree with conditions that are somehow not tenable for us, is important, but being in the position of truly disagreeing with “the powers that be” is rarely pleasant,…
It’s a busy morning here,… bbl!,… I’ll be thinking about your “question”,… !
I actually began this blog heading in the direction of freedom is “Die gedanken sind frei.” But my mind took another route. Ironic. Have a good day.
Interesting!,… as I just started to think about how important “freedom” is to us as a simple enough catch-word these days, — (almost everybody would immediately nod their heads in agreement about “personal freedom” being high on their personal priority lists, even though they might not actually all be meaning the same thing when they do!) — I began to realize how our inter-connected and inter-dependent lives make “personal freedom” anything but a “simple” proposition,…
One man’s freedom can be another man’s torture (think loud music too close),… or freedom to venture out anywhere could be fatally dangerous if guidance is needed to successfully navigate “the unknown” (think Sacagawea & Lewis & Clark),… only very seasoned hermits seem to be able to “make it” completely on their own,…
So, where does my freedom end and yours begin???,… I don’t think there’s a simple answer to this question, unless someone is just being completely arbitrary and self-centered, domineering and “demanding of it all”,… OR, being so self-effacing as to never ask for anything at all, whatsoever,… Neither of these extremes is healthy or to be recommended, or hardly fair in the least,… but surprisingly, many people manage to fit themselves in — kind of “naturally” — somewhere along the lines of this continuum and polarity of inclinations, in patterns that either clash or “work out” or seem to be neutral or avoid or agree or a little bit of everything, on and off, and now and then,… but real satisfaction (and peace and “good timing” and a sense of actually “being free”) is very elusive, despite the best of intentions — (which is often NOT the case anyway),…
So, I’ve said “all that” to say this: it is SO EASY for us to “grind the gears” of more or less unavoidable human interaction,… FRICTION is commonplace and not usually all that welcome,… things heat up,… tempers flare,… & “we know that we know that we know”, that we are NOT FREE,… And if we are blatantly obtuse, it will always be “the other guy’s fault”,…
So (#2), I was thinking (this morning) how interesting it IS, that the Holy Spirit has often been represented biblically by oil,… blessed oil,… olive oil,… oil poured over Old Testament heads, running down beards,… consecrating the person to the service of God,… oil prayed over and blessed for healing,… blessed oil that supports a spiritual flame/(illumination) for a supernaturally long period of time,… oil representing and bringing divine assistance to us,… love, consideration, co-operation, made possible, far above and beyond the mundane levels of our human inabilities,…
22 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”
I would say that “joy” is a spiritual aspect of true freedom,… when we have it, we know it,… God’s Holy Spirit seems to lift us into larger realms, where we can all “fit together” better,… having purged the dross of earthly/fleshly considerations that interfere with our lives and our peace,… perhaps we even gain spiritual wings of a sort, and are better attuned to functioning in harmony,…
God’s Holy Spirit “oil” oils our human gear meshing problems,… I think this is something that I have been basically taking for granted, more so than appreciating,…
& that’s an amazing chameleon!
My wife’s church is oppressed, by the neighborhood around it. I have not specific quotes, opinions galore. They want to enlarge the building and have fought diligently to get proper governmnet zoning changes made. They will not build unless they have ALL the funds at hand. It may never happen, but in the meantime the ill will and criticism abounds from the folks that live around the church community. The church is holding up just fine, no retaliation, no ill will dished out to the neighbors but would like acceptance. The church is there for the duration. It’s a tough row to how but the services go on, the concerts are held, the 24 hour prayer vigils continue. Freedom in the midst of oppression, close to home example.
Sorry to hear about that real life example of oppression. I pray God brings peace in that community.