A monthly column by Michael Cassidy, evangelist, author, Christian leader and founder of African Enterprise whose ministry in Africa and the world has spanned more than 50 years.
Some time ago I saw a letter in a newspaper from a woman who said she felt trapped by life. There seemed to be “nowhere to go.” She lamented that there was no “way out” which she could see, though she felt there must be one.
While desirable and worth preserving, marriage for our friend was a primary trap. But so too was life generally. Boredom seemed to have become the order of the day and the prospect of growing as a person appeared to have vanished like the morning mist.
Quite rightly, this was recognised not only as a cry, from the heart, but as a typically 21st century cry from the heart. It was also recognised that the trap need not simply be marriage or the family, but equally obviously could be the job or neighbourhood or anything.
In search of freedom
The idea of a trap is a vivid one. It conveys the sense of being bound, held captive, imprisoned. To be in a trap is the opposite of being free. Freedom is thus the answer to that trapped feeling. Yes, but where and how is freedom to be found?
The 21st century has many answers to this question, the most common being “throw off every yoke and do your own thing.” But many either can’t or won’t cast off their job, or their marriage partner, and moving to another neighbourhood simply relocates the problem elsewhere. Likewise changing marriage partners or jobs solves little, because the bondages of the first partner and the original job soon reappear to bind us again, only with a different set of chains. And so we stop externalising the problem and conclude reluctantly that life itself is a trap. Somehow we just do not fit or feel at home in the universe.
If freedom is indeed the answer, then how in the world are we to find it? The Bible replies quite clearly: “If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). Says the Apostle Paul: “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). The basic thought here is that the trap is not outside man, but in man. The chains are in us, not in our home, job or society. The problem is internal and spiritual, not external and physical. Guilt, dividedness, alienation from self and meaninglessness – these are the inner coils with which the trap is sprung.
Only, therefore, in conversion, new birth and spiritual discovery is true freedom found. Paradoxically, it is only as we exchange bondage to self with bondage to Christ that liberation comes. Paul described himself as “a bond slave” to Christ, but in that bondage he became a liberated man. Jesus was discovered as one “whose service is perfect freedom.” And did He not say: “Whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel’s will find it?” But whoever saves his life, by clutching it to himself, loses it. For to clutch one’s life to oneself, and to leave God out, is to spring the trap and then feel its bars snap closed upon one’s soul.
However, if Jesus is indeed the cosmic Lord of the universe, then to become a Christian is to become ‘universalised’ and to feel at home in the universe, and therefore to feel free. Our mysterious spiritual homesickness is ended. We feel at home – with God, with ourselves and with our fellows. No wonder Charles Wesley could exult: “My chains fell off, my heart was free. I rose, went forth and followed Thee.” He was out of the trap.