Sunday, October 9, 2011

Freedom in the Truth (John 8:32)

Published in REVIVE (formerly Trumpet Magazine), Kumbanad, Sept 11.



Of all the aphorisms on freedom ever uttered by human lips, the most liberating one is the declaration of Jesus in John 8:32: "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." He further qualified it with another in verse 36, "If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

More than any other time in history, the modern century is witness to this unshakeable truth of the Scriptures. Despite the ironic failure of the 18th century Enlightenment, which, while celebrating the freedom of the human mind from the shackles of religion, gave rise to an era of cosmic skepticism, and the horrific tales of the French Revolution that produced both the guillotines and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen at the same time, the 19th century unabashedly ventured to erect a Babel of scientific and philosophical theories that attempted to redefine the meaning of man apart from the revelation of God. While the cannons kept thundering and humans kept butchering each other, the doctors of thought kept celebrating the fact that at least now, man was free to chart his destiny as he liked. Darwin wrote the Origin of Species in 1859 and Marx published his Das Kapital in 1867, the former attempting to rewrite the history of man as biologically self-evolved and best-evolved; while the latter, as economically and politically progressing towards a utopian age of wealth and liberty (though "utopia" was a term Marx disdained to use). The 20th century welcomed this optimism with the rage of war, the hatred of the Holocaust, and the earth-shaking detonations of the first atom bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (as if it takes an atom bomb to shake the delirious world to its senses, now!). We didn’t enter the Utopian Age: we entered the Atomic Age.

The Bible never says that the world will start getting better as the Day of the Lord gets closer. That’s the false hope of human wishful thinking. Education may inform, but cannot transform the nature of men. Neither can it free one from the domain of darkness and the rule of spiritual wickedness in the high places (Eph.6:12). The whole world is under the control of the evil one, the Bible says (1Jn.5:19), and it is only because of the Lord’s mercies and His unfailing compassions that we are not consumed (Lam.3:22). If the devil had the freedom, it would have been his pleasure to suck all humanity into his whirlpool of wickedness, even as a black hole sucks every object, even light, that comes near it. But, the Son of God has come to destroy the works of the devil (1Jn.3:8), the devil is a defeated foe, and those who obey the Gospel of the Son are delivered from the power of darkness into the Kingdom of His dear Son (Col.1.13).

The paradox of a sinful mind is that it is unaware of its own sinfulness. Sadhu Sundar Singh described this condition as similar to that of a man underwater. If a 100 kilo weight was placed on his head, he wouldn’t feel it so much; but, take him out of the water, and the weight will be very real. Similarly, a sinner sunk in his sin is unaware of the seriousness of his sin. It took a Nathan sent by God to shake David to his senses to realize the horrific nature of his crimes against the house of Uriah. Unless the Lord encounters us in His grace, we would be doomed to death in the anesthetic insensitivity of our own fatal sinfulness. Only the Son can set us free by the liberating light and power of His Truth.

1. Liberating Light of His Truth


To the Greek mind of the 1st century, light was an important category. A few centuries back, the giant philosopher Plato had described the condition of humans in the Parable of the Cave. Though juxtaposed with a different connotation, the parable portrayed vividly men as chained inside a cave facing towards the wall, since childhood. There was a great fire behind them, and in between them and the fire a walkway in which walked daily men, women, and animals to and fro. Since, the prisoners couldn’t turn their heads around nor look behind at the real people, they had always had the impression that the shadows cast on the walls and the echoes bumping off the walls were all the reality that was to be known. In course of time, however, one of the prisoners is released and he, turning around, is dazzled by the light of the fire. Led out, he sees reality, the fire, and the sun and is finally able to apprehend what reality actually is and its difference from the world of shadows. So, he returns to share this good news with his former prison mates. However, since their faces are still turned towards the wall and they are bound with chains, they are only skeptical and highly suspicious of their friend who became free. They think he has lost his mind. They couldn’t grasp reality because their faces were turned away from the light outside the cave.

In 2 Corinthians 3:13-15, Paul uses a different analogy from the Old Testament to describe how a veil over the minds of people prevents them from understanding the truth of God. Then, he says in verse 16: "Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away." In other words, the problem is not that the Light is not there; the problem is that man is shackled to a position facing away from the Light. True liberation lies in repentance and turning to the Light of God in obedience to the preaching of the Gospel. Chapter 4:4 of the same epistle indicates that belief is important in order for the Light of the Gospel to shine in the heart of a person. The preaching of the Gospel is like a knock on the door of a dark room; when the door is opened, light floods in and dispels all darkness. It is like the announcement of a train on a railway station; on the train’s arrival, the passengers get in and are commuted to the charted destination. The one who refuses to come into the light, to get into the train foregoes God’s true emancipation. The Bible explains:

And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God. (John 3:19-21).

Those who shun repentance for fear of losing the pleasure of sin are doomed to the underworld of darkness and gnashing of teeth. But, those who repent and take up the cross to follow the Lord walk in a path "which shines brighter and brighter until full day" (Prov.4:18, RSV).

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2Cor. 3:17-18).

2. Liberating Power of His Truth


There is nothing as destructive as falsehood; nothing as liberating as truth. Successful missions are accomplished on principles and actions that are accurate and flawless. "The pen is mightier than the sword," wrote Edward Bulwer in 1839. He went on to say:
…Behold
The arch-enchanters wand!
Itself a nothing!
But taking sorcery from the master-hand
To paralyse the Cæsars, and to strike
The loud earth breathless!
Take away the sword
States can be saved without it!

Ideologies govern bullets and ballots alike. Even as I write this, the world deeply mourns a recent tragedy in Norway that sent seismic shocks across the globe. Before he went on the killing spree, in which some 91 deaths have been reported this far, Andres Behring is said to have posted a single-liner on his newly created twitter account. The post was an overstatement of a J.S. Mill quote and read "One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100000 who have only interests." Just a few hours before the attack, he mailed to 5,700 people a manifesto of some 1,516 pages that explicated his case against the Labour Party. While the investigations roll on, the world stands bewildered at the enormous power beliefs wield over the actions of men. We don’t believe that truth is relative, anymore, do we? If it was so, everything could be justified for reasons that someone somewhere believed to be "true". Yet, the sinful heat scorches our globe with such vehement hellfire that morality is left charred beyond recognition: feelings rule and feelings have gone berserk – while some mourn the loss of innocent lives on one side, some celebrate the sanction of same-sex marriages on the other. Mankind without God is like a ship without stars or compass.

"My Spirit shall not strive with man forever," said God concerning the world at Noah’s time, "for he is indeed flesh." He said to Noah, "The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth," and commanded him to build an ark. Then, He destroyed the earth with a flood save only eight in Noah’s ark. The wicked were destroyed, but deep somewhere the strands of wickedness lay potent. Some 2000 years later, Jesus told Nicodemus, "…unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3: 3). Nicodemus found this quite perplexing because little did he anticipate that there could also be a reversal of the laws of nature. "Can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?" he enquired. Jesus replied, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6). The new birth that Jesus was talking about was a birth not by any natural means but by the Word of the eternal God that was living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword (John 1:13; 1Pet.1:23; Heb.4:12). Falsehood creates wreckage and fosters evil through the privation of the good; the Word creates the heavens and the earth, and all that is good, and ushers in the Kingdom of righteousness. Therefore, it is said "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!" (Rom.10:15). Truth brings healing, recovery, and liberty (Luke 4:18). The witness of Truth has liberating power.

Are we being true witnesses of Christ? Are we being His salt and His light in this world? Are we being useful for the Kingdom of Christ? How sad that the Church possesses such immense restorative, liberating, and recreating power of God, and yet fails in administering the one thing that the world is so much in need of!

The Church is called the "pillar and ground of the truth" (1Tim.3:15); but, if it fails in its primal duty of supporting and lifting up the truth of God, there remains no other hope for mankind. Sadly, the devil is often successful in getting Christians do anything else than release the liberating Word of God. They fail to be true watchmen while the world collides with destruction. Let’s gird up our loins with the belt of truth, let’s put on the full armor of God, let’s bring down the walls of falsehood, and let’s bring divine emancipation to the ends of the earth.

© Domenic Marbaniang, 2011.

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