Let My People Go
“Let My people Go!”(Exodus 5:1) Thus thundered Moses to Pharaoh. In a period of severe famine the Hebrew peoples had gone down into Egypt. There they had multiplied until the Egyptians felt threatened. In due course, the Egyptians enslaved them. Centuries passed. Their values were changing but from the spiritually alive among them their cry went up. God heard and sent a deliverer. Through Moses He confronted Pharaoh. The people were freed and a mighty deliverance was wrought.
Do you remember Moses’ prophecy? It is one of the earliest Bible prophecies about Jesus:
The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear.(Deuteronomy 18:15)
This prophecy is applied to Christ in Acts 3:22 and 7:37. Moses was a a precurser, a predeliverer; Jesus is the ultimate deliverer, the ultimate Moses.
Oppressors on the Prowl
Oppression is always searching for subjects. When there is power without other-love, self-loving agents are on the hunt. They are pushing and squeezing and looking for ways to press down, suppress and oppress. Self-love looks for people to tear down into objects. It searches for people it can measure itself against and then use for its own ends. Oppression never has its source in God’s kingdom but always has its source in Satan’s kingdom.
There are only two springs—a spring of life flowing from God, what we can call other-love, and, a spring of death flowing from nowhere higher than Satan, self-love. Converted people drink from other-love. But the human default is unconversion, self-love, and therefore the liquor of the spring of death.
When you interact with others it is always from one or the other of these terms. You are free, you are other-loving, you are secure in Christ and not wandering through the earth in search of people to oppress. Or, you are self-loving, insecure, and wandering through life endlessly setting up step-ladders to make you bigger than you are.
This is nothing new. Men sinned and God washed the earth with a flood. But not long after that humans diverged again into those two streams. One group journeyed from the east and came to the plain of Shinar. There, they built themselves a city and a tower whose top reached into the heavens. Their motivation was clear: they sought to make a name for themselves. This was not rooted in other-love but self-love. And there was manifest this tired, restless, hopeless project of godmaking. Men weren’t satisfied with the God of heaven and other-love. So they made carnival mirrors for themselves to look larger than life to themselves. While this was relatively new to earth it was not new to the universe. Angels had seen it before. Lucifer had embarked on this strange path when he turned against God without cause and remade himself into Satan, God’s adversary.
After Satan led Adam and Eve astray, this wandering, restless, bent-up, catastrophic search for bigness at the expense of others became the default human position. You’ve seen it at work, in your family and sometimes in your church--attempts to go against God’s ways and to usurp His authority with our own human authority. You see it in movements in the culture, movements which try to overwrite God’s design for humans. You see it on the news. You see it in rules handed down to force others to go against their conscience. You see it in men building bigger rockets, bigger buildings, faster cars, acquiring more money, more power, in bombings, killings, shootings, and even petty robberies. The terrible fruit of self-love rumbles through the world leaving in its wake damaged people, broken lives, crushed hearts, hopelessness, and despair.
But the towers men build are never tall enough. The power they exert over others is never satisfying enough. Always restless self-love is unsatisfied because men cannot become gods or even junior gods. Humans are humans and were never designed to build towers and carnival mirrors enlarging ourselves to ourselves. We were designed for other-love.
How to be Oppressed
We come under oppression in two ways. Either we walk into it, or, it comes to us. But it is always coming.
When God’s people were unfaithful, the Babylonians came to them, invaded, and off they were carted to captivity. When God’s people went to Egypt, eventually they were oppressed in Egypt. For a time there was opportunity to walk out, but when that door closed they were trapped under Egyptian boots.
God made us in His image, with a likeness to the divine. He designed us to be free; to exercise agency. “The power of choice God has given to men; it is theirs to exercise.”(Steps to Christ, p. 48) That is, we have been granted liberty; we exist within a moral framework. There is right and wrong. We can choose right or wrong. Some of our choices are morally indifferent; to select one color of toothbrush is not a more moral choice than to select another color. But for us to compel action in others is to override their choice, to deny them their freedom. God gives freedom. It is essential to our divinely-given human nature to exercise choice.
Paul outlines the principle:
Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? Romans 6:16
To do what is wrong is to engage in the self-love principle, and to do what is right is to engage in the other-love principle. God does not force; He does not compel. Satan uses force to compel. God does not oppress; Satan does.
There are degrees of oppression. Sometimes oppression is merely authoritarian: “comply with our demands on category A things and do whatever you want with category B things.” Other times, it is totalitarian: “we control category A and category B and you must comply with all our directives for category A and category B.”
There are different strategies for creating conformity. In Orwell’s 1984, the people are under an oppressive surveillance state. They are watched everywhere. The police use force. The state tortures.
In Huxley’s Brave New World, people are technocratically engineered, “standard men and women, in uniform batches,” raised in bottles in specialized chemical soups, conditioned to like their infinitely dull world. The government provides constant entertainment, free drugs and contraceptives, and sexual immorality is required. Morality has been inverted. When John questions the controller about the apparent silence of God in that world, the controller tells John, “God isn’t compatible with machinery and scientific medicine and universal happiness.”
Near the end of the story, John is speaking with the controller about all the inconveniences that have been removed from life.
John: “But I like the inconveniences”
Controller: “We don’t. We prefer to do things comfortably.”
John: “But I don’t want comfort. I want God. I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”
Controller: “In fact, you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”
John: “All right then, I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”
Controller: “Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.”
John: “I claim them all.”
Orwell’s society was about power; it shouted few pretenses about the greater good. Huxley’s world emphasized sensory experience and a kind of superficial happiness for the collective.
Loving Our Servitude
Huxley penned a chilling letter to Orwell in 1949. He wrote:
Within the next generation I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narcohypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience.(Letter, Aldous Huxley to George Orwell, Oct. 21, 1949)
God gave us free choice, but it is free choice against a moral backdrop, free choice in the setting of right and wrong. Then aren’t all of our choices rooted in the one stream or the other? Aren’t all our choices choices to other-love, like when Jesus gave Himself for us at the cross, or, self-love, as with Satan seeking the worship of men and angels?
It appears that Huxley was onto something when he warned that “suggesting people into loving their servitude” was the way things would go. Rod Dreher, in his prescient 2020 book Live Not by Lies, says we are descending into a soft totalitarianism. According to Dreher,
Soft totalitarianism exploits decadent modern man’s preference for personal pleasure over principles, including political liberties. The public will support, or at least not oppose, the coming soft totalitarianism, not because it fears the imposition of cruel punishments but because it will be more or less satisfied by hedonistic comforts… The death of God in the West had given birth to a new civilization devoted to liberating the individual to seek his own pleasures and to managing emergent anxieties…. This was a revolution even more radical than the 1917 Bolshevik event… For the first time, humankind was seeking to create a civilization based on the negation of any binding transcendent order. The Bolsheviks may have been godless, but even they believed that there was a metaphysical order, one that demanded that individuals subordinate their personal desires to a higher cause…. Relatively few contemporary Christians are prepared to suffer for their faith, because the therapeutic society that has formed them denies the purpose of suffering in the first place, and the idea of bearing pain for the sake of truth seems ridiculous.(Rod Dreher, Live Not By Lies, pp. 10-13)
People give up their liberties under delusion, and the West today is immersed in delusions. Dreher:
Under soft totalitarianism, the media, academia, corporate America, and other institutions are practicing Newspeak and compelling the rest of us to engage in doublethink every day. Men have periods. The woman standing in front of you is to be called “he.” Diversity and inclusion means excluding those who object to ideological uniformity. Equity means treating persons unequally, regardless of their skills and achievements, to achieve an ideologically correct result.(Ibid., p. 15)
H.L. Mencken warned, “The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it.” He was talking about self-love. Language is more dangerous than bullets because language permits us to compromise for a bargain price. Jesus told us there is an irrepressible conflict between other-love and self-love. He said,
If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.(John 15:18-19)
We are not of the world because we are engaged in other-love. The world is on the default plan of self-love. Conflict between the two is irrepressible. First Corinthians 13:4-8a reminds us about other love:
Other-Love suffers long and is kind; other-love does not envy; other love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Other-love never fails.
Other love as described by Paul does not oppress. But self-love seeks its own and fails as it did when Satan chose not to love the one who had created him pure. Satan did his utmost to lead men to murder Jesus at Calvary. Self-love is the denial of liberty to others and the denial of glory to God. It takes everything to itself. Self goes first. And so, self love never says he’ll split this banana with you but instead says I will take that banana from you by force and eat all of it. It says you must be restricted so that I can live.
Other-love says I will die so that you can live. That was Jesus on the cross. But also at the cross Satan’s self-love said to Jesus you must die because your other-love will prevent me from my oppressions; other-love stands in my way. Oppression is always searching for subjects to turn into objects.
Still Blind After All These Years
All of this brings us near the finish. But let me make sure I’m clear before we continue. If you weigh the facts as you understand them and choose to be vaccinated, I support you. If you weigh the facts as you understand them and choose not to be vaccinated, I support you. You are a free agent, so exercise your choice and try to be right.
But in a recent article in the Lake Union Herald, a religious liberty expert wrote that he was not arguing for mandatory vaccination but that
Your choice not to be vaccinated will appropriately come with limitations on community participation, work and travel. You cannot fairly decry these limits as violations of fundamental Protestant principles of freedom, once you understand their true history and nature--and the even more fundamental right of your neighbors and friends to stay alive.
This same article was just reprinted in the Adventist Review with the addition of a phrase about the Constitution protecting us. That change to the article does not change the author’s error of accepting coercion, because his article still affirms as being “appropriate” threatened limitations to community participation, work, and travel.
But, we must ask, when is it appropriate to deprive people of the right to liberty? Must we actually balance one person’s right to liberty—community participation, work, and travel for example—against another person’s right to life? Are those God-given natural rights merely tags in a zero-sum game needing to be weighed and balanced by lawyers dressed in black robes or doctors wearing white lab coats?
And really, how does the author of that article know that one person’s informed refusal to be vaccinated will kill his neighbor? And why stop here? What if my neighbor needs more from me than my being vaccinated? Perhaps he needs an organ transplant. Maybe he has smoked until he had cancer and needs to take one of my lungs to live. If I refuse to give him one of my lungs, should my community participation, work, and travel be appropriately limited? Or maybe he needs a lung from my wife or one of my children? Or maybe he needs some of my money to pay for cancer treatments.
There is also the sticky issue of race. As soon as we agree that there is an “appropriate” limitation of people’s rights because supposedly they should be vaccinated in order to keep others alive, what about groups who are less convinced about receiving the vaccine? Statistically, African-Americans are among groups having the lowest rates of vaccination, and if you know some history you might understand one reason why that might be the case. People have experimented on other people. Are we really willing to say it is appropriate to limit the community participation, work, and travel of African-American citizens?
Once we begin to agree with the concept of “appropriately” limiting our own rights based on unprovable assertions someone might die, we are already trapped in the spell about which Huxley warned. Have we not then taken the bait, and exchanged our freedom for the odious principle of “suggesting ourselves” into “loving” our own servitude?
I stand with John in Brave New World, when he said, “I want freedom. I want the right to be unhappy.” That is where the founders of the American Republic stood. When Thomas Jefferson said that “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants,” I expect he was right. Self-love continues always in its unrest to stalk the land in search of other-love people to suppress. Jefferson was never more right than in his affirmation, “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.”
We are already far down the not-very-primrose path. Ryszard Legutko, observing the remarkable changes in Poland after communism, writes
If the old communists lived long enough to see the world of today, they would be devastated by the contrast between how little they themselves had managed to achieve in their antireligious war and how successful the liberal democrats have been. All the objectives the communists set for themselves, and which they pursued with savage brutality, were achieved by the liberal democrats who, almost without any effort and simply by allowing people to drift along with the flow of modernity, succeeded in converting churches into museums, restaurants, and public buildings, secularizing entire societies, making secularism the militant ideology, pushing religion to the sidelines, pressing the clergy into docility, and inspiring powerful mass culture with a strong antireligious bias in which a priest must be either a liberal challenging the Church or a disgusting villain.(Ryszard Legutko, The Demon in Democracy, p. 167)
Deitrich Bonhoeffer, the day after Hitler was elected, wrote plainly:
The fearful danger of the present time is that above the cry for authority. . . we forget that man stands alone before the ultimate authority and that anyone who lays violent hands on man here is infringing eternal laws and taking upon himself superhuman authority which will eventually crush him.(Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, p. 138)
When we coerce others, we are taking upon ourselves superhuman authority--divine and not human authority. We are transgressing into God’s space.
There is another example from popular culture. A widely known story in today’s world is a science fiction show called Star Trek. These are a band of humans and other humanlike races who travel among the stars in spaceships. They encounter friendly and unfriendly civilizations. One group they encountered was the borg, as in cyborg. This was a ruthless race that assimilates members of other races into its hive-mind collective. Every assimilated person undergoes involuntary medical and technological interventions. All individual freedom is removed and each person does exactly what they’re told and has no private thoughts or opinions. When they encounter you, they tell you that “resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.”
The borg were a terrifying idea. Assimilated people were reduced to a zombie-like state and became walking automatons, medically altered, completely surveilled, doing exactly what they were told, incapable of free thought or free action. Borgified humans are just a fiction for now. But they represent the complete reduction of the human to the object. They are completely subjugated, all free agency removed, completely victimized by an overlording collectivity. They are an almost perfect opposite to other-love.
Jesus the Ultimate Moses
We very easily revert to oppressor behavior, even when we have known better. We revert to self-love when we ought to be doing other-love.
We are still blind after all these years.
Here we want to return to that early prophecy by Moses. You know, where he made clear that Jesus is the ultimate Moses, the ultimate Deliverer. Jesus is the ultimate model and example for other-love.
Jesus the innocent interposed between us and forever death. He received the punishment that was rightly ours and gives to us the life that is rightly His. His sacrifice for us not only fulfills the penalty but is transformative. Isaiah 53:4-6:
Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
This is other-love. Jesus gives for us. Other-love brings us back from the brink, respects and seeks our choice and our consent. It heals the conscience rather than crushing it. Self-love crushes freedom. Other-love nurtures freedom.
The Example of Jesus is other-love. He is the human example, the Jesus we follow, Deliverer from all oppression. He is the light and we are to be children of light. We are to be children of other-love.
Muskegon MI Seventh-day Adventist church, 2021-08-28