The Ambiguity of Symbols

While I was biking around Mae Sa Luang on the way to the farm today, I absent-mindedly pondered the ambiguity of symbols and how what are often considered to be symbols of slavery by “enlightened” elements of our society end up being symbols of freedom and liberty when properly understood. In particular I would like to discuss two symbols that are greatly under attack in our present world, and show how they are symbols of liberty rather than oppression: marriage and the Sabbath.

For more than a hundred years, the more “enlightened” and “progressive” elements of Western society have increasingly looked at marriage as a barbaric institution that enslaves people and enshrines the second-class status of women. Instead they have championed “free love” arrangements where people join together based on their present passions without any kind of concern for the long-term ramifications of their actions. As a result, without even knowing it, they have vastly increased the spread of the institution of concubinage in their attempts to shun marriage. And these behaviors (exhibited in “living together”) have seeped into the church and to those who consider themselves (often in self-deception) to live godly and obedient lives.

What is the essential difference between concubinage and marriage? A concubine is a “wife” of lesser status who has all of the burdens of being a wife—taking care of the house, sexual duties, caring for any children of the union—without any of the covenantal protections of marriage. For that is the essential difference—marriage is a covenant. To be more precise, marriage is a parity covenant made between a man and a woman, requiring mutual obligations (including sexual ones), and also providing clear obligations for support of any children born as a result of the union. The requirement of divorce for cause actually protects women by placing a legal and covenental obligation on men. In a free-love agreement, when the hausfrau gets to be too much of a nag, she is left behind and the illegitimate kids are often forgotten. In a marriage, the legitimacy of children is protected and the obligations of the husband are recognized both by God and the state. This does not prevent the state from providing that same protection to cast-aside concubines, but that is a favor, not an obligation on their part.

So, we see that rather than an institution of slavery, marriage is an institution of freedom. It recognizes the equality of men and women (at least in its godly form) as a parity covenant and also protects women and children from the effects of men who lack a suitable sense of personal responsibility, providing legal (and religious) obligations to both parties. One type of freedom—the freedom of people to make decisions without any concern to their long-term effects on others, ends up merely being a form of tyranny over others by one’s selfish and ever-changing moods. Over and over again in my family I have witnessed, and occasionally suffered from, the unwillingness of my own family members to behave in a manner according to their covenantal obligations because their own subjective moods changed. This is not acceptable behavior—covenants are not about feelings, but about obligations and the concern for future generations.

The Sabbath is another institution that for thousands of years (at least since the gnostic attacks on the seventh day Sabbath in the first century) has been attacked as an institution of slavery. The institution has been seen as heaping burdens on others, ironically enough (since the doctrine of the Sabbath in all of its forms—from the Sabbath to the annual Holy Days to the land Sabbaths, Jubilee, and Millennium—are about freedom and liberty, and reducing burdens). In part this is because the Sabbath has been attacked on two fronts. On one front, from the right, it has been attacked and hijacked by legalists who sought to bolster the Sabbath in such a way that it inceased their religious power, and such behavior often involved a man-made list of dos and don’ts that was not scriptural as much as it was suited to their own desires to micromanage the behavior of others to make themselves feel more important. But the Sabbath has also been attacked on the left, from those who see the Sabbath as a burden that keeps mankind from having fun twenty-four hours every seven days. Some have, even further, sought to attack the Sabbath from the pont of view of the Sabbath being physical and enlightened people being spiritual and saved from having to show any concern for the flesh at all—except to fulfill fleshly lusts whenever and however one wants to without any need to obey any outdated law.

But the Sabbath is really about liberty, it’s just a different kind of liberty than those who seek to be freed from the law, or those who revel in their power to bind and unbind the human behavior of their followers to boost their low self-worth. Indeed, the Sabbath is freedom for every man, woman, child, and animal from the burden of serving the economic interests of others for a day out of every week. It is a time to reflect, to ponder, and to be free to honor God rather than serve (often unappreciative) human beings. The fact that the Sabbath also involves the literal periodic freedom from debts (which are extremely oppressive), from servitude and slavery, and from the mistakes of one’s ancestors (the Jubilee), as well as ultimately from sin and evil and its influence over our present fallen world (in the Millennium) only boosts its importance as an institution of liberty even more.

We see in both the Sabbath and the institution of marriage the same two-headed nature of attacks, one from the right and one from the left. The attacks on the right have tended to corrupt institutions of freedom into institutions of slavery by denying the equality of all mankind under God (see Genesis 1:18, Galatians 3:26-29). By denying equality, the attacks on godly institutions from the right have tended to attempt to exploit women and children by making them slaves of a paternalistic system of law, and have attacked the Sabbath for its limitations on their freedom to profit from the labor of others (and its requirements for the closure of businesses and for the release of manservants and maidservants for labor during that 24-hour period from sunset to sunset). On the other hand, the attacks on the Sabbath and marriage from the left have tended to attack it from antinomian perspectives, painting the institution according to the definition of the tyrants (the opponents of godly institutions on the right).

This would appear to be Satan’s characteristic two-pronged strategy against godly institutions and symbols. First he corrupts them from the right, changing what is designed to increase respect and equality and freedom and turning them into burdens on the poor and exploited. And then he attacks them from the left, painting the godly institutions as the chains and shackles of slavery, and urging their overthrow and rejection, rather than their purification and operation under the true godly standarsd of justice and equity that are present in God’s much-maligned legal order. This would appear to be the genius of Satan’s strategy—it appeals both to those who wish to be bullies over others (and those who blindly and foolishly seek after human leaders to tell them how to fold their towels and tie their shoes the right way because they lack the spirit to work out these matters themselves) as well as those who wish to rebel against the established order.

Whether one chooses to follow or corrupt institutions from the right or whether one attacks godly institutions from the left, one is simply following the satanic rule book that has been perfected over thousands of years of human folly. If one desires to follow God’s way, one must turn aside from His commands neither to the right side nor to the left. For God is neither a liberal nor a conservative, at least not as we define them. He is both deeply concerned about equality and justice and also deeply concerned with order and decorum. But he is neither a bully nor a revolutionary. He ends up being something entirely different, an unexpected, a deep feeling and compassionate father who is frustrated by the inability of his children to understand His ways, continually have to pick them up and remind them over and over again of how his laws and standards and covenant are institutions of liberty rather than the chains of slavery that they are so often falsely slandered of being. Since such symbols cannot help but be ambiguous in light of the corruptions and slanders of our adversary, we must be wise enough to see the funhouse mirror for what it is, a distortion of the true perspective. And then we must act on that recognition and refuse to see the world through the eyes of our enemy.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Love & Marriage, Musings, Satan's House Divided and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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