Life Sentences (Prison Life part 1)

The sunlight streams down, warming your face. You return its bright stare. It hurts your eyes but it's the best pain you've ever felt. Gone is the musty smell of your 8'x8' jail cell (though you stopped noticing the odor years ago), replaced with fresh air. It exhilarates you and fills you with wonder and vigor. It is as if you've been reborn into a world that's new.

Imagine you've just been released from prison. Solitary confinement, even.

The movie Shawshank Redemption actually makes prison life appealing. I haven't known (to my knowledge) many people who've been incarcerated, so I don't know if it's a wholly accurate portrayal. That being said, I have read of individuals committing crimes just so they'd be jailed, locked away in escape from the inherent difficulties of life on the outside. Neither position would I want to experience for myself, you understand. God help me. I can understand why someone would want to escape into a world where you're told what to do and your schedule is constant. There are aspects of prison that are similar to childhood. Though they're still outweighed by the reality of guilt, shame, remorse and repentance. One cannot escape those things so easily.

Besides, being locked up and dependent (on anyone other than God) is not the natural order of things.

"and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." (2 Corinthians 3:17b)

I write about this topic from an outsider's perspective, physically. But I have experienced the deep spiritual feeling of being locked away forever in my (less than desirable, to put it politely) circumstances. Depression, while it does have a neurochemical component, is far from an exclusively physiological anomaly. And if we feel dark and gloomy and hemmed in, then we need to be reaching for God. This too, shall pass, as the saying goes.

I did meet a man once–Larry by name–who had spent time in prison. One thing he mentioned was how being there gave him ample time to read and learn. And while any learning you engage in while in prison would be totally driven by your curiosity, the lessons to be learned while spiritually bound are compulsory. You have to learn what God would have you know while you're there in order to be freed. Here's a tip that'll take you to the head of the class: Worship God. Jesus, it says in Isaiah (61:1), came to "proclaim liberty to the captives". The natural response to pardon is worship and exultation. So why not start while you're there! This worked for Paul and Silas. They were jailed for preaching Jesus (Acts 16). During the night, sore from a beating, they prayed and praised, and God shook the prisoners free with an earthquake. Every prisoner was unshackled though none escaped. After some formalities, including the salvation of the jailer and his entire household, they were let go. A similar thing happened in China during the early nineties. Brother Yun, a prominent house-church leader was imprisoned under similar charges. God let him walk out undetected. From his cell to the street, God miraculously opened every door and saw him safely home. Though not before God used him to bless every other prisoner in his deplorably cramped cell. Read his story in his autobiography, The Heavenly Man.

There's a Hebrew word (two words, a concept, really) of which I'm very fond. It's peqach qowach and it means "release from prison" with a metaphorical basis of having one's eyes opened so as to be observant. When God takes you from the darkness of your current circumstances (assuming that's where you are), He also gifts you with an understanding of, not only how you got there, but also how to keep from ever returning.

And I'm sure He'd appreciate it if we used our newfound freedom and liberty to help others achieve the same.

That Faraway Look (Skylines and Horizons part 4)

Far Be It From Me