Sunday, May 31, 2009

Is Slavery Evil?

The topic of slavery is usually accompanied by bitter feelings and condemnation for Americas past. Like America, many civilizations have used slavery as a means of providing labor. Samarian drawings on clay tablets dating back to 4000 BC show captives taken in battle being tied, whipped, and forced to work. Then there are ancient papyrus manuscripts from 2100 BC that record the ownership of slaves by private citizens in Egypt. The earliest mention of slavery in the Bible would be Genesis 9:25 when Noah cursed the descendants of Canaan. From Abraham on down we read of the men in the Bible owning slaves and the Israelites themselves becoming slaves, but never do we read of God condemning slavery. We do read of Him telling Moses how to treat slaves in Exodus chapter 21, but neither God nor Jesus ever condemned the practice.
This absence of any condemnation towards slavery has led many critics to claim that the God of the Christianity and the Bible is evil. Instead of trying to understand why God would not expressly forbid the practice of slavery, I often hear Christians defending God's silence on the evils of slavery. Like Job's friends who defended God by foolishly condemning Job, Christians often times defend God in a rather foolish way by condemning slavery. It's almost as if Christians think that somehow God just forgot to mention the evils of slavery in the Scriptures. I do believe that the practice of slavery in the Bible needs to be addressed. But not to defend God's lack of condemnation, but rather to better understand God's reasoning for not condemning it.
Here's where many will disagree with me, but as I study the Scriptures and understand God's word, I can only conclude that God did not condemn slavery because slavery is not evil. Throughout history, men have willingly chosen to be in servitude to others rather than put their future in their own hands, God even made arrangments for such a desire. “.....if the servant plainly says, "I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,”...... his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever. Exodus 21:5-6 So, while there have always has been evil masters who abuse their slaves, God obviously knew that there would be good slave owners. God specifically condemned treating others in an evil way. Man being evil in his treatment of others does not make the practice of slavery itself wrong just as a husband's abuse of his wife does not make marriage evil.
It is my position that the bible does not condemn slavery because our human positions in life is not what the gospel is concerned with. To say that the very concept of slavery is wrong is to say that God's salvation is an evil practice. That is because the concept of total submission and slavery is at the very heart of Christ's gospel; in order to be saved you have to be a slave to Christ. God is the one who chose us, he is the one who saved us, and He is the one who paid the price to buy us with the very blood of His Son, Jesus.
Human slavery is a very tragic and sobering part of history. The fact that godly people in the Bible owned slaves, only makes it more difficult for modern people to understand. As humans, its natural for all of us to want to be free rather than slaves because slavery means we are in bondage. However, even though we may want to be free, the reality is that we are not. True liberty is freedom from sin, not freedom from human bondage. Sin ultimately leads to eternal punishment of torment in Hell. Jesus Christ, whom all Christians are slaves to, broke our bondage to the slavery of sin by placing us under His light yoke and easy burden Mathew 11:30 The whole concept of slavery and servitude may be difficult for us to grasp today, but at the time when Christ taught most people understand this message of slavery.
During the time when Christianity was born, 85% of the population of the Roman Empire were slaves. It is my opinion that had any of the authors of the New Testament epistles directly attacked slavery, then there would have been revolts against the institution of slavery. The result of which would be similar to what happened to the 120,000 slaves that revolted with Spartacus in 73-71 BCE. The Roman general Crassus crucified 6000 of the survivors along the Appian Way to teach future slaves what Rome would do to them of they revolted. Instead of spreading the gospel the message of Christ would have been hopelessly confused with that of social reform. Instead of a violent revolt, Christianity worked to undermine the evils of slavery by changing the hearts of slaves and masters.
An example of this kind of heart transforming work would be the letter Paul wrote to a Christian name Philemon. The letter revolves around a slave named Onesimus who had who had stolen money and eventually ran away from his owner, Philemon. During his flight from slavery, Onesimus eventually found his way to the city of Rome, where he met Paul and accepted Christ. The apostle quickly grew to love this runaway slave and wanted to keep him in Rome. Philemon However, Paul knew that Onesimus had broken Roman Law and that he had to deal with it. So Paul sent Onesimus back to Colosse with a letter he wrote to his master Philemon. Paul urged Philemon to forgive Onesimus Philemonon and welcome him back as a slave and a brother in Christ. Now if slavery was wrong this would have been a perfect opportunity for the great apostle to condemn it. But he doesn't, he actually urges a slave to go back and serve his master.
Now I personally believe the concept of Slavery is a very deep one, and the very nature of slavery characterizes the relationship that every human being has either with God or with the Evil One. All people are slaves and it is either to sin that we are enslaved or to Romans 6:16 If God would had condemned slavery in the Scriptures, then the very message of the gospel itself would have been robbed of its meaning for us. If slavery is wrong, wives should not submit to their husbands, children should not obey parents, and no one should call Jesus his master or submit to the authority of God. It is my opinion that this is the reason the Bible does not condemn slavery, because the whole concept of Christians serving God would be meaningless.
In serving God we need to remember that it is His will we should be following. When asked how we should pray, Jesus tells us to ask for the Lord's will to be done over ours. Matthew 6:10 We are also told to deny ourselves and love God even before our own families, and we do this by taking up our cross daily and following Christ.Luke 14:26-27 When I read the New Testament, it sounds like slave talk to me, and if you are a Christian you will understand what it means to be bought and to be a slave. I realize that this is and always will be a very contentious topic and that even many Christians will disagree with me on this. However I cannot reconcile the idea in my head that God just forgot to mention that slavery was wrong, because that implies God does not know everything. Those who do not understand the true concept of slavery, not only misunderstand the very nature and character of God, but they also do not understand what it means to be a Christian.
After Mary was greeted by her cousin Elizabeth, she sang a beautiful song unto the lord, and in the song are these words, “for he has regarded the lowly state of his maidservant”. Luke 1:46-55 The Greek word used by Mary for maidservant is “doulos”, which actually means “slave” or more appropriately “bond-servant”. Here we see the very mother of Jesus referring to herself as a female slave of her master, God. Mary understood perfectly what it meant to be a slave of God, and anyone who has accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and savior should not consider the concept of slavery insulting or evil.
I pray that those who have ears to hear will hear His voice and call upon the name of the lord Jesus Christ.

1 comment:

  1. We are all working for someone..This is a form of slavery. We should all treat one another with respect. Do not cheat your slaves(workers).