Slavery does have its benefits. Sure, you’re forced to spend your life working for what you don’t believe in, and you could be beaten for no real reason, but it’s not ALL bad. After all, you don’t have to worry about where your next meal is coming from. And you’ve got a fixed income. And regular work. And if they don’t give you any work, then, heck, you can take the day off and not have to feel a pang of guilt. And you don’t have to worry about your retirement, either. After all, it’s all taken care of.
And if there’s any problem, you can always blame the owner and his lackeys. They run the place, so if the food isn’t to one’s liking or there’s a problem with the farm tools or it’s too hot, you can always blame them. You don’t have to take responsibility for anything.
The problem is, if you ever get released from slavery, then you are cut loose from all these benefits. And, as much as you hated being enslaved, you weren’t prepared to live on your own. You aren’t prepared to be responsible for yourself. So the one freed from slavery has to go through a larger attitude adjustment than people who have been free most of their lives.
This could be called “slavery mentality”, but today it is more often called “prison mentality”. As bad as prison is, there is a security there that, over time, becomes a dependence. And some of those who finally get out of prison don’t know what to do with themselves. No one to give them a schedule. There’s a need to figure out what to eat and how one would eat. No one to blame for one’s situation except for oneself.
Too many choices. Too much responsibility. Too much freedom.
For most of us, this is hard to imagine. After all, we appreciate our freedoms, and most of us, like a teenager stuck in their parent’s house, we long for greater freedoms. But there are many people, when faced with freedom, it’s hard to know what to do with it.
This is the way it is with many marginalized peoples. If, as a society, a group has been under the thumb of another group, perhaps for generations, then marginalization becomes a way of life, a preferred way of living. Oh, sure, we still complain about “the man” and we make plans for freedom and dream about how it would be if we really were free. But honestly, do we really want the freedom if it were thrust upon us?
Some would do well, thriving in the new society. But many would find the new freedom impossible to live with. Because they find that they have to live with themselves, their own choices, their own problems. And the one freedom that is most difficult to deal with is the freedom to be responsible only to oneself.
The life in God is a sorted kind of freedom. It is a life of freedom from oppression, but it is also a voluntary limitation that is difficult to live out. Sure, we can claim that God is responsible for the situation in our lives, but God at times places that responsibility squarely upon on own shoulders again. Because although God is our Master, He gives us more freedom than we can handle sometimes. He gives us the ability to make our own choices—we can’t just blame a sin nature or society for our sins and failures. He will provide everything for us, but we need to willingly put ourselves under His provision and not turn to the world for what He freely offers.
Sometimes this combination of freedom and dependence is difficult to live in.
And if we were a part of a marginalized society, offered freedom under God, sometimes this is harder to live with than if we were one already used to freedom.
Why would we choose to give up a freedom given to us from the world, simply because God is offering us a better option? Why would we choose to work hard for God when we’ve never had to work that hard before? Why would we turn away from prosperity and power in the world, what we wanted for so long, just offered to us freely, just because we could have a better life in God?
This is the trickery of much of the church. They offer to the marginalized—the poor, the street people, the imprisoned, the racially outcast, the immigrant—an opportunity to live a “normal middle class” life, although this lifestyle in the perspective of the human race as a whole is neither middle class nor normal in any way. The marginalized, through the church, is finally offered the freedom they wanted and needed.
Yet it is exactly this freedom that God wants us NOT to have. He wants us to work for Him. He wants us to give up our luxuries and our powers. He wants us to have freedom in the Spirit, which will lead, eventually, to freedom in the world, but probably not in our lifetimes. He wants us to give all our excess to the poor, to care for the needy. This is true freedom.
But those who grew up poor want to be taken care of. They want it handed to them, because they’ve suffered so much already. Why should they give it away?
So those who work with the marginalized have to make hard choices, led by God’s Spirit. How can we teach the new people of God from the poor to surrender their newly-obtained freedom for the sake of God instead of for their own health or life? Is there a problem in our evangelism or discipleship which focuses on “health” and “success” and “empowerment”?
But most of all, we need to realize that, no matter what the goals of God are, we must be patient with those who we are pointing toward those goals. We can’t expect them to release the attitudes of slavery overnight, even as the children of Israel, recently freed from Egypt, didn’t. Attitudes change over time, through a variety of experience.
One of the things we need to be freed of is an instant-discipleship mentality. Discipleship is a long process—longer than anyone thinks. Are we going to remain with the disciples as long as they are striving toward God, even if they take some horrible detours on the way? Or do we expect the poor and the marginalized to be just like us when we were discipled?
The real question is, who is in charge of the process, us or God? And are we going to wait for God’s called as long as He waited for us? Or will we give up in the middle of the road, and leave them feeling abandoned and empty?