By R.T. Johnson Rain
Come August 15th 2011, and India will be celebrating her freedom and liberty. Kites with the tri-colour will be flying all across the cities of India, parents will be buying new dresses for their children and the sweet shops will be making hay as the sun of freedom season shines in the cities. As this season draws nigh a pertinent question keeps coming to the fore, ‘What is the true freedom that really matters?’ It was Jawaharlal Nehru who in his famous ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech remarked, “At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance…” Yes, India has achieved her long cherished goal of attaining freedom from the imperialistic rule of the British Empire. Rabindranath Tagore’s poem, ‘Where the Mind is Without Fear’ which ends with this sentence, ‘…into that heaven of freedom, my father let my country awake’ has inspired thousands of Indians as they travelled the road to political freedom. Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s famous statement, Swaraj is my birth right and I shall have it had been a magic sentence that inspired countless freedom fighters. Mention may be made that Subhas Chandra Bose gave a superb speech regarding freedom while addressing a Students Conference at Lahore in 1929. He said, “It is time for all lovers of Freedom to bind themselves into one happy fraternity and form the Army of Freedom. Let this army send out not only soldiers to fight the battle of freedom but also missionaries to propagate the new Cult of Freedom… This freedom implies not only emancipation from political bondage, but also equal distribution of wealth, abolition of caste barriers and social inequities, and destruction of communalism and religious intolerance.”
But today, after 64 years of Independence and freedom, what does this freedom or freedom celebration mean to the various groups of people in India? What is this freedom celebration for the inmates of Tihar and Shajibwa jail? What does freedom celebration mean to the thousands of genuine beggars in the cities of India? What does freedom celebration mean to the people affected and infected with HIV and AIDS? What does this freedom celebration mean to the drug addicts who live a life of a shadow of the former self? What does this term mean to the derelict and children from broken homes? What does freedom celebration mean to the orphans who cannot afford two square meals a day? What does freedom celebration mean to the oppressed and the violated women? What does freedom celebration mean to this country which invests so much in developing nuclear war heads and other military equipments out of insecurity and threat? Isn’t it ironical to be celebrating and unfurling the national flag with pride and at the same time
with much fear and insecurity in this region called the North East India? Isn’t it equally ironical to be celebrating the day of freedom with bandh and fear? The former US President Franklin D. Roosevelt in January 1941, said to the congress that he envisioned four basic freedoms for all after the war was over. They were: 1) Freedom of Speech 2) Freedom of Worship 3) Freedom from Want and 4) Freedom from Fear. But what has happened to America after the 9/11 episode? Have the people been living without fear now? Has the presence of the Statue of Liberty brought fear down in Los Angeles? I doubt it has.
If we look at the world we live in, we will find that in countries declared free there will be stories of genocide, mass killing and violation of human rights. There will be absence of freedom of speech and journalism, absence of freedom of religion, absence of women rights, absence of economic rights for the marginalised and many others. The concept we have mentioned above is the external form of freedom which has relative implication.
Relative freedom is the freedom which to one group may be freedom but not to the other group. But we would like to focus for the rest of the article on a higher kind of freedom, a freedom that really matters, a freedom which is spiritual, objective and universal. This freedom is beyond time and space, and we shall call it the freedom that really matters. The Biblical concept of freedom is spiritual in its essence and universal in its influence. People with freedom mat really matters are those who have with them some spiritual realities. In this article the author would like to confine on just three of them. They are mutually inclusive, for one without the other is not complete.
1. People who are no longer Slaves to Satan and Sin or People whose Sin are Forgiven
The Bible tells us that long ago in a garden called Eden, human beings were unwittingly enslaved by Satan/Lucifer who had declared war against God in the heavens and whom God had banished forever along with his fallen angels. Since Satan could not get back to God, he devised a plan to tear the heart of God by taking away from him what is most precious in his sight. The same plot of course is evident in the movies we see where the villain kidnaps or takes to ransom the near and dear ones of the Police officer they cannot defeat. It was John Milton, who in his epic poem ‘Paradise Lost’ dramatized how Satan devised this plan to get even with God. He began his poem by saying how human being lost Eden and with it ushered in death and woe in our universe until Jesus Christ brought salvation thus,
“Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful seat…”
Satan’s purpose did not consist merely in rejecting God; he was designing a huge cosmos world system in which he proposed to employ and misappropriate the elements which belong to God’s creation, which, in themselves, are good. Satan creates nothing. No step in the satanic cosmos project was more crucial than that he should secure the allegiance of humanity. The issues at stake in the Garden of Eden were, in respect to Satan’s career, such as would determine his realization of his whole undertaking. He must gain supremacy over man or fail completely. Little did Adam and Eve realize that, so far from attaining freedom, they were becoming bond slaves to sin and Satan. Pauline theology of the ‘Original Sin’ which is consistent with the theology of various protestant groups and also the Roman Catholic Church is relevant here to understand. Original Sin, according to the Biblical theology is, creation’s state of sin and depravity resulting from the Fall of Man in Genesis 3 and which automatically leads humankind to death/separation, now and always. Original Sin is regarded as the general condition of sinfulness that is (the absence of holiness and perfect charity) into which humans are born, distinct from the actual sins that a person commits (‘symptomic sin’). Everybody has sinned in Adam. Let me illustrate this truth through an analogy. If for example the President of India who is the head of the state declares war against another country, we, as citizens of the country are into active war with or without our consent. Firstly, because she is our representative and secondly, because we are the citizens of India, the country which has declared war against another. As a matter of fact, the representative principle runs through the entire range of human life. Representative action is a sociological fact everywhere and is recognized in all orderly legal systems. An old man living in a remote corner of Manipur cannot say that since he does not have the facility of the Newspaper, Radio, Television, Internet, Mobile Phones,
Facebook and other modern gadgets, he is ignorant of what is happening in the world and thus he is not going to be in the war declared by the President of India.
No one can say, ‘I was unborn and thus non-existent when the war was declared and therefore I am not going to be in this war’. He may not be present when the action was taken. A person may be only listening over the radio. Nevertheless, our representative acted for us and as representing us, therefore it was our action, and we are implicated and involved in all the consequences of that action. Whether we are aware of it or not, whether we are born into it or not, whether we agree with the ideology of the war or not, whether we are involved in active fighting or not, the fact is that we are all into war as citizens of India, the moment the President declared war. In fact the future generations who will be born during the war will be in the war until it ends. J. Oliver Buswell puts it well, “Just so, I became a wicked, guilty sinner in the Garden of Eden. I turned my back upon fellowship with my holy God. I deliberately corrupted the character of Godly holiness which God imparted to His creation. I willfully began to spread corruption through the creation over which God had intended me to rule. I was not there. No, but my representative was there, and he acted as such in my place and I was driven out from the garden and excluded from the tree of life.” We are sinners by ‘Being’ and not by ‘Doing’. We are sinners and therefore we sin, and not we sin therefore we become sinners. Our actions are irrelevant, because long before we knew how to sin we were declared sinners with or without our consent.
Being a slave to smoking, drinking, corrupt and licentious living, and others are terrible but they are not the main issue for God. They are just symptoms of a higher principle at work, which is the Original Sin. God wants human being to be justified as holy through the finished work of Jesus Christ and be saved from the impending danger of eternal separation (penalty of sin) that will be for everyone whoever does not accept this escape route God has provided. The state of the sinful mind is corrupt and degenerated, far from the standard of God. This mind rejects God as God. This mind rejects Jesus Christ as the way for salvation and redemption. It is this mind that rejects the finished work of God at Calvary and the work of the Holy Spirit. We live on earth as enemies of God. In other words unless human beings decide to accept their sinful state and acknowledge their wickedness as a sinner by ‘being’ and not ‘doing’, ‘Original Sin’ would continue to hang like a sword upon our necks and cut us off completely from God after our death. What a tragedy to be living as enemy of God here on earth and also by being forever cut off from the land of the living and God for eternity after our death. This is the Sin that God is more concerned of than our drinking, corrupt living, murder, smoking, etc. In fact all these sinful actions are the by product of being a sinner by birth.
The Bible says no matter how ethical our conduct may be, not acknowledging Jesus Christ as the saviour of our soul will lead us into eternal separation. We are called to ask not for the forgiveness of sin we personally do in the first place but for being a sinner born into a sinful state. So the concept of how righteous we live, how unblemished our conducts are, how religious our prayers may be and how humanistic our world views are do not arise at all. We cannot by our good works make peace with God for our good deeds are like filthy rags before him. Accepting the finished work of God through Christ is the only way to be reconciled into heaven for the Bible says, ‘So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed’ (John 8: 36). Therefore being free from the clutch of Sin and death is the real freedom. The Bible tells us that a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him whether to sin which leads to death or to obedience which leads to righteousness (II Peter 2: 19; Romans 6: 6-7). We have to be also aware that slaves lose everything in their chains, even the aspiration of escaping from them. People who have been conditioned in an environment for so long lose the vision or the need to be different. This is exactly why Jean Jacques Rousseau mentioned, “Sinners do not find any need as to why they should escape.” Are you freed or are you one of them?
2. People who Forgive the Unforgivable
There are many people in the world who do not deserve to be forgiven from the human point of view. And at the same time many people around the world live with an unforgiving spirit. A child who has seen his father beating and abusing his mother waits to be older so that one day he may beat up his father. A girl hates his mother/father for leaving her while she was just a kid in need of both the parents. A country which refuses to forgive and forget the ill treatment meted to them by the other country. A South Korean Pastor even requested the Japanese people to, “Forgive us for not forgiving you.” A community may be up against another for their condescending attitude or even for marginalising them and systematically exploiting them. We live today in the real world of hurt, hatred, revenge and killing. Sometimes a person may even find it hard to even forgive oneself for the tragedy he has brought to himself or his loved and near ones into, like: the tragedy of being infected with a deadly disease due to his own careless living; the tragedy caused due to careless driving which has snuffed out precious lives; the tragedy of being rude and unkind to one’s parents while they were alive and then regret after their death and the tragedy of neglecting one’s children when they were young as they have become so distant from them when they become old. But if God forgives us, we must forgive ourselves otherwise it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than God said C.S. Lewis. But we need to forgive ourselves and others because God has taught us to (Matt 5: 23- 24; 6: 11,14-15; Luke 11:4).
Forgiveness is doing good to yourself. Living with an unforgiving spirit is one of the heaviest burdens in a person’s life. Corrie Ten Boom, a Christian woman who survived a Nazi concentration camp during the Holocaust, said, “Forgiveness is to set a prisoner free, and to realize the prisoner was you.” Nelson Mandela when asked why he was not resentful for his imprisonment said that resentment is like a glass of poison that a man drinks; then he sits down and waits for his enemy to die. In fact when Nelson Mandela walked out to freedom after 28 years of imprisonment which was telecast on TV, Bill Clinton remarked that his initial face of anger and vengeance disappeared and turned sober. So when Clinton asked him why, this was how Mandela answered. He said that he heard a voice telling him that for 28 years he had been a physical prisoner but never a slave to their ideology. Now that he has become free he should not become a slave by harbouring anger and spirit of vengeance and unforgiving spirit. What a sublime piece of thought. You may ignore a sickness or a disease but ignoring does not expel the disease. Covering up a wound infested body with good designer wear and branded clothes does not heal or make the problem disappear. Confronting it with the right medical care, however inconvenient it may be is the only way it can ever be healed or treated.
Forgiveness is a higher law of love. The Old Testament concept of ‘life for life’, ‘eye for an eye’, ‘tooth for a tooth’, ‘hand for hand’ and ‘foot for foot’ (Exodus 21: 24; Leviticus 24: 20; Deuteronomy 19: 21) was introduced by Moses to promote love and social harmony in the community and not to spread hatred and discord. This concept of ‘as you sow so shall you reap’ was introduced so that each may respect each other, that the neighbour may be protected, that the weaker section may be safeguarded and that love may prevail in the family and the community. But Jesus took this concept to a higher level by introducing the concept of forgiveness to promote love and safeguard communal harmony (Matthew 5: 17). For Jesus, forgiveness is a higher and a tougher principle which the strong and the tough can only use. Think about this: Which is easier, to slap back at somebody who has just slapped you or to look back at the person who slapped you and say, ‘I forgive you’? Is it easier to throw a stone at somebody’s car because he broke yours or to smile back at the person and forgive him? According to Mahatma Gandhi forgiveness is the weapon of the brave. A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man. The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.
It must have been a harrowing experience for Jesus Christ to have been beaten like an animal, to have been insulted by his creature, to have been tortured like a criminal and to have been hated like a traitor. The Bible records the humanity of Jesus by saying that he had been hungry, tired, thirsty, angry, weeping and even agonized. He prayed to his father “My Father if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will but as you will (Matthew 26: 39).” He sweated blood (Luke 22: 44). Science confirms that in case of extreme agony a person sweats blood. The condition is called Hermatidrosis in medical term (as researched by Dr. Frederick Thomas Zugibe one of the United States’ most prominent forensics experts). So having the human nature Jesus won’t have said to the Roman soldiers, ‘Good job, keep beating me’ or ‘Wow, it’s so nice to be suffering for the sins of the world’, ‘Hey don’t stop I like the insults and the spitting.’ No, Biblical theology will tell us that Jesus was tired and could not carry his cross alone so the Roman Soldiers caught Simon the Cyrene to help him (Luke 23: 26). He experienced human suffering to the maximum on the road to Calvary. He must have wrestled with the thought of forgiveness and love as taught to his disciples, as he faced the cruelty of life that day. Jesus demonstrated and epitomized his teaching by bis action that forgiveness is a matter of the will and not that of emotion. It was very difficult but not impossible. Jesus decided to let good conquer over evil (Romans 12: 17, 21) and said the famous statement, “Father forgive them because they do not know what they are doing” (Luke Luke 23: 34). Deacon Stephen followed the example of Jesus Christ when he was stoned to death (Acts 7: 59-60). Observing the examples set before him, William Blake said, “The glory of Christianity is to conquer by forgiveness.”
C.S Lewis said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.” He goes on to say that even if a person is absolutely fully to blame we still have to forgive him; and even if ninety-nine percent of his apparent guilt can be explained away by really good excuses, the problem of forgiveness begins with the one percent guilt which is left over. To excuse what can really produce good excuses is not Christian character; it is only fairness. “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” This is hard, he says, “It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life—to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son—how can we do it?” “Only, I think”, he says, “by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night ‘forgive our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.’ We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what He says.” He that cannot forgive others, breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself; for every human being has need to be forgiven. Agnes Mary White Sanford (Regarded as the principal founder of the Inner Healing Movement) said that as we practice the work of forgiveness we discover more and more that forgiveness and healing are one. Forgiveness is human being’s deepest need and highest achievement. Are you truly free? Life lived without forgiveness and love becomes a prison.
3. People who live a Transparent Life without Guilt and Fear
A life tortured by guilt and accused by one’s conscience is a hell. Many people are afraid to face their past, their present and their future. It is so because a guilty conscience is a hidden enemy and needs no accuser. Seneca (Roman Stoic Philosopher, Statesman and Dramatist) once said that every guilty person is his own hangman. In fact, from the body of one guilty deed a thousand ghostly fears and haunting thoughts advance. The Bible teaches that if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God (I John 3:21). People who live in fear and guilt live in the cover of darkness and are afraid to come out to light. Some fear for the wrong they have committed while some not necessarily out of their own choice and fault. Jesus was talking about this when he said, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God (John 3: 19-21). Jesus encouraged people to live a life of transparency and walk in the light as he is in the light (I John 1: 7).
An experience was narrated by a man that his wife had a symptom of some cancer in the womb. Because the doctor was out of station they could not investigate the matter quickly and so they had no clue whether it was a serious problem or a preventable case. The unconfirmed sickness and fear began to eat them up steadily. The wife began to say farewell words to the family and had stopped eating food and taking proper sleep. The BP shot up and had to be admitted to the hospital immediately. But after the investigation was done and the report taken, the result was that it was not a cancer. Not getting the medical opinion quickly and living in darkness brought a lot of confusion and fear. But living in the light and transparency drove away the fear. I wonder what would have happened if the woman had refused to take the test?
There is also a story of a young man who wrote in the article, ‘Secret Guilt’ that after living a reckless and licentious life, he feared of being HIV positive for over a decade until he got himself checked and ruled out the fear. He wrote, “I feared every skin infection to be the indication of the beginning of my endless nightmare.” His guilt for ten or more years took away all the joy and smile in his life. His guilt was cancerous because it had penetrated into other aspects of life; identity, studies, relationship with the family and friends, and others. A life of hiding is truly a life lived in bondage. A thief is always on the run and hiding, and the life of an underground or terrorist are never at rest. They are always on the move and hiding. It is a life fearing to be exposed. William Shakespeare supports this view by saying that suspicion always haunts the guilty mind and the thief doth fear each bush an officer.
There is a story told of a brother and his elder sister who went to Grandpa’s house for vacation in the hills. On the day of their arrival the boy accidentally killed one of grandpa’s chickens. Fearing the chiding, the brother quickly hid and buried the chicken. Unfortunately, for him instead of comfort and good advice from his sister, who was a witness to the incident, she blackmailed the brother into getting up early every morning to make fire (with wood) for breakfast or else she might report the incident to their grandfather. The grandfather’s frantic search for the missing chicken everyday did not encourage the boy to confess his crime either. And so he had to get up early everyday to make fire while his sister enjoyed some extra minutes of rest. When the brother refused to get up some days she would say, ‘if you don’t get up I will report what you did to grandpa.’ Almost without thinking and sometimes even before she could complete her sentence he would jump up from his bed and go to the kitchen. As hisholiday had been filled with blackmailing and guilt, he thought it would be better to tell his grandpa what he really did and seek forgiveness. Mustering courage he approached his grandfather and confessed all what he did and the consequent actions of his sister every morning. His grandfather smiled back and said unto him, “Grandson, I saw what you did that evening because I was at the terrace. I had forgiven you before you came to seek my forgiveness but you never came to me to confess and therefore you never made the forgiveness your own. You chose to live with your guilty conscience without any need. I wanted to teach you that there is no benefit in living a life of hiding for it is only self-destructive.” The grandson was so stunned and was filled with tears. He was at once so happy for his new found freedom but also so angry with himself for the delay in receiving that forgiveness which was already there. The next time the sister blackmailed him you know how he must have responded. Satan blackmails us with the sin that we have committed. Satan makes us afraid to live and face tomorrow because of the mistakes we have done yesterday. Satan tells us that our sins cannot be forgiven. Satan tells us that we have reached a point of no return, no hope! He tells us that we are too wicked before a holy God who demands perfection. Many people become a victim to this lie and choose to live in darkness all their life. We don’t need to let this Liar who is the ‘Father Below’ (C.S. Lewis gave Satan this name) win. We know that Jesus Christ forgave the thief who was on his right side and took him to Paradise with him because that thief was willing to face his mistakes and sin head on and open his heart for the light of God to penetrate and cleanse him.
Malcolm Muggeridge (English Journalist and Author) once said, “Psychiatrists require many sessions to relieve a patient of guilt feelings which have made him sick in body and mind; Jesus’ power of spiritual and moral persuasion was so overwhelming that he could produce the same effect just by saying: Thy sins be forgiven thee.” I believe that the purpose of being guilty is to draw us to God. Once we reach there, its purpose is completed. If we continue to accuse ourselves than that is sin in itself. Do you have anything to settle with man or God? Better face the truth and live freely than tell a lie and live as a slave to your own lie. Living a transparent and a forgiven life is the best life on earth. No wealth, money power, bank balance, house and fame can buy this state of mind.
In the final analysis, it is not the external and physical aspect of freedom that matters but the internal and the spiritual which people may not see or know. A prisoner in the jail after reconciling with God may be living a life of freedom because he has forgiven himself as God had forgiven him his crimes. A person who has been infected or affected by HIV/AIDS either by his licentious living, infected blood transfusion or through his parents may have forgiven himself or them for the present predicament and have accepted the situation by finding peace in God. The social stigma may not bother them anymore. But some because of prejudice and holier than thou attitude may be living in the cave dug up by themselves. Many people who live outside the four walls of the prison may still be living in the prison rooms designed by themselves because of hatred and unforgiving nature. This exactly was what German poet Bertolt Brecht said, “A person can be free even within prison walls. Freedom is something spiritual. Whoever has once had it, can never lose it. There are some people who are never free outside a prison. The body can be bound with chains, the spirit never. One’s thoughts are free.” Another aspect to this concept is that people who are quick to condemn others of their sin but who do not themselves receive forgiveness of sin themselves may be living with spiritual cancer in their lives. As we draw closer to the Independence Day celebration it may be fitting for our minds to ponder upon this spiritual aspect of freedom. Let me end with what Oswald Chambers (Prominent early twentieth century Scottish Protestant Christian Minister and Teacher) once said, “We are only free when the Son sets us free; but we are free to choose whether or not we will be made free.” Do you have with you this freedom that matters?
(The writer may contacted [email protected]m)