Christopher B. Harbin
In December of 2010, a Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest over the confiscation of his wares by a municipal official and aides. His action of protest became a catalyst for what we have come to call the Arab Spring. He sparked a movement that began in Tunisia and extended throughout most of the Arab world, including Egypt and Syria. His actions incited into action people who wanted freedom from injustice and tyranny. More recently, we have seen similar struggles in Brazil, Ukraine, and Venezuela. People have been standing up and speaking our, decrying various forms of oppression, corruption, and lack of opportunity. We earnestly desire freedom, at times putting our own lives on the line to gain freedom for others. Do we honestly know what true freedom is, however?
Paul had a very different notion on freedom than the concepts we throw around. That is not to say that he would not take the side of so many in today’s world who struggle against oppressive and corrupt regimes. Certainly the principles underlying the gospel would take the part of the poor, oppressed, marginalized, voiceless, and powerless of any society. At the same time, however, Paul’s understanding of freedom was very different than what we might generally consider. His definition flew in the face of the Jewish concepts of freedom in his own day, as well.
Paul was no revolutionary in the political sense of the world. He was no freedom fighter seeking to overthrow an oppressive regime or substitute one group in power for another. If anything, Paul’s fighting for freedom was more akin to the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire than any who take up arms in their struggles for freedom through violence. Mohamed Bouazizi caught himself on fire and died a few days later. His actions are repulsive to me and strike me as futile, in part because that is how I was taught to view such actions. On the surfa ...
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