by Marilyn Ehle
Frederick Douglass, leader of the abolitionist movement, discusses at great length the difference between the mindsets of slavery and freedom. In one book,* Douglass reveals how his demeanor changed when he began thinking—or visualized—what it would be like to be free. Conversely, he began to understand what it was like when he stopped dreaming about freedom. Adam Abraham writes that Douglass “gained spiritual sustenance and physical strength only when he had an active connection with his soul’s longings.”
We have a vivid biblical picture of this same kind of thinking in the story of the Israelites after they left Egypt. They were finally within stepping-into distance of the land promised by God, but when they heard the discouraging “majority report” of realities within that Promised Land, they balked in fear. They returned to slave thinking. David Stubbs writes, “Israel rejects God not because they want to be more, but rather because they are willing to settle for less.”
We who walk with Christ often experience this tendency toward slave thinking. We grow discouraged in the tough battle of addictions or grief or abuse or self-doubt. We quake with discouragement because it is easier to believe that nothing can ever change than it is to believe that “Christ has made us free.” Instead of “standing fast,” we let our weak legs wander off the path of discipleship. We are “hampered” by voices that shout true freedom is an impossibility. We succumb to the false teaching that freedom is only for the favored few.
God has built soul longings into us. The psalmist likens his own yearnings after God to a thirsty deer panting after water. When Frederick Douglass envisioned freedom and began to live like a freed man, he set out on the road to change society. What even greater miracles can God do when His children stand fast, are not hampered or ensnared and truly live as free people?
*Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: an American Slave,
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