Prison is not unusual for God’s people. I follow an unjustly imprisoned, tortured, and cruelly executed prisoner. The Bible has a lot of prisoners and their stories, which makes it very relevant to our present “shut-down” situation. Without taking sides, let’s think about what a godly response looks like.
Paul was confined in Rome when he wrote his letter to the Ephesian church. The overarching lesson from his letter is his focus on declaring the good news of Jesus. He is confident of God’s grace to continue his mission (Eph. 3:2-13). Rather than asking prayers for freedom he asks,
“That utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains.” (Eph. 6:19-20)
We are ambassadors in chains too, in more than one “prison”. You probably live in similar cell blocks to me. I am restricted to a lifestyle of itchy masks of caution that protect me from catching or carrying an invisible virus to my wife, who has vulnerable lungs. I am also forced to do business cautiously for the sake of my employees and customers to maintain an income that no government program will replace. My extrovert self groans about solitary confinement under an (anti)social distancing order. My hair has become a tangled mess. If I chose to I could rant about the encroaching fence of injustices and possible conspiracies designed to trap and exploit.
There are perhaps three broad concerns about the Covid 19 pandemic that imprison people. All need to be heard. Some people are troubled by all three.
- Personal health and safety or that of others. Some people are trapped by a medical condition or committed to a career of caring for “risky” people.
- A loss of civil liberties.
- Economic ruin personally or more widely.
It is easy for someone fighting against one threat to view champions of another as the people imprisoning them. For instance, “You’re endangering me by insisting on your own freedom.” Or, “All your restrictions are ruining the economy.”
Of all the people who deserve to live as free citizens, surely Paul and people of God, like you and I, deserve it most. Yet Paul spends little time objecting to unjust imprisonment; it’s something of an opportunity for him. So, what can we learn from him?
- Surely we should never harshly silence others by dismissing their positions as founded on fake news, conspiracies, unbelieving and cowardly fear, or selfishness. The way of Jesus is to listen to understand, respectfully counter falsehood, and then practically address the root fears that are their jailer’s keys.
- Being a child of God implies that we trust His control over our lives. We will not behave recklessly but we know that He covers us when we are within His will. There lies freedom from all fears. That is how Paul could say (from the same imprisonment), “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21)
- Demonstrate and explain the freedom that God’s children have even in confinement. Nothing need ever separate us from the love of God in Christ. Nothing need block the flow of His love, power, and truth through us. God gives grace to us to declare the good news of Jesus and His open invitation into God’s family.
Will the way we manage our own fears and the way that we respond to others during hard times be the way of Jesus and Paul?