Bondage is no archaic reality; it’s alive and well. This fact has been impressed on me repeatedly this week.
First, my daily Bible readings have taken me through the early chapters of Exodus and the last chapters of Galatians. Bondage is a key theme in both. These passages remind us that freedom is God’s gift and that bondage takes many insidious forms.
In Exodus, bondage is Israel’s long political enslavement in Egypt:
Then the children of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry came up to God because of the bondage. So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant . . . (2:23, 24).
In Galatians, it’s false religious enslavement threatening the church:
Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage (5:1).
Whether it is the mighty struggle to secure liberation from bondage or that faithful resistance to keep from falling back into it, whether it’s self-imposed slavery or the kind that coerces us from without, the threat of bondage is never far from any of us. And it has a way of exerting its influence over our lives, in numerous forms.
Another important parallel with Exodus and Galatians jumped out at me this week. While Pharaoh rejected Moses’ command to let God’s people go, telling Israel, “Get back to your burdens” (Exodus 5:4, ESV), Paul urges the Galatians to not subject themselves to slavery but to “Bear one another’s burdens . . .” (Galatians 6:2, ESV).
We can expect no pity from the forces of slavery that dominate this fallen world. They are merciless taskmasters who demand all and offer nothing in return. But not the church born of Christ and led by the Spirit! As the free children of God, we are a community of deliverance that does not leave each other alone with the weight and temptation of this life. We’re here for one another and for those caving in under the weight of sin’s enslavement. Do you see them?
That brings me to the second series of impressions that remind me that bondage is alive and well right now. All this week the news has revealed one story after another about America’s ongoing opioid crisis.
The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports:
Over the past decade, out-of-state drug companies shipped 20.8 million prescription painkillers to two pharmacies four blocks apart in a Southern West Virginia town with 2,900 people, according to a congressional committee investigating the opioid crisis. . . .
The panel recently sent letters to regional drug wholesalers Miami-Luken and H.D. Smith, asking why the companies increased painkiller shipments and didn’t flag suspicious drug orders from pharmacies while overdose deaths were surging across West Virginia. . . .
The state has the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation. More than 880 people fatally overdosed in West Virginia in 2016.
This is just the latest article I’ve run across. A piece in the New York Times from earlier in the week reports on the opioid crisis in New Hampshire. A more affluent state than West Virginia, with the highest median household income in the country, New Hampshire is competing with Ohio for the second highest drug overdose per capita deaths in the country. The government estimates that as much as 10 percent of the state is suffering from alcohol and drug addiction.
Consider this stat. In 2016 there were 64,000 opioid overdoses in the United States alone. Just opioids. That number in one year is greater than all the US combat fatalities of the entire Vietnam War.
Whether it’s drug wholesaler negligence or localized self-medicating hopelessness, dealers or consumers, enslaving others for personal gain or enslaving ourselves to numb our emptiness, this crisis of deathly despair forces us to look our social decay and cultural decadence straight in the eye. When we do, it reveals but one more face that bondage takes. I hear Pharaoh even now: “Get back to your burdens.”
But I also hear the God revealed in Jesus and the hope of freedom He offers all:
“I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord” (Exodus 6:6-8, ESV).
God’s sevenfold “I will” promise of deliverance to Israel finds its fullest and universal expression in Christ. He promises us the very same freedom, future, and belonging that come from knowing God as Savior. He commissions us to tell others, especially the hopeless lost in the pain of this life and desperate to dull it by whatever means necessary.
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36, ESV).
You don’t need to travel to West Virginia to find the opioid crisis. I have friends in my hometown who struggle with addiction. I talked to one last night. This bondage is alive and well, and not far from any of us. But I have seen victory too: deliverance in Christ. The freedom ring of the gospel is alive and well and closer still.
Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version, except where noted.