By Ben Swift
I’ll tell you what freedom is to me: no fear. I mean really, no fear! – Nina Simone
There’s an old proverb that suggests that as pressure makes diamonds, a situation where a person is placed under pressure enables them to demonstrate their full potential. While it may be true that diamonds – crystals of pure carbon formed under the influence of high temperatures and extreme pressure – sparkle with beauty, human beings, although carbon-based life forms, do not always shine when under extreme pressure. In fact, the varying, unrelenting demands and pressures of life for seemingly unending periods of time can lead to chronic stress, a far cry from the alluring nature of a diamond.
While the Christian life by no means provides an escape route from the reality of the pressures of life, it does throw hope into the mix; a light at the end of the tunnel so to speak.
There are many stories of people who throughout history have shown remarkable resilience in the darkest of circumstances. But what is it that enables some people to endure the unendurable? What fuels the souls of the seemingly unbreakable in the face of intense adversity?
Film makers have often been good at addressing these questions as they go to great lengths to portray the lives of people living through extreme circumstances. The fictional film ‘Shawshank Redemption’ perceptively illustrates the power of genuine hope found in a place where most would succumb to the seemingly helpless situation they find themselves in. The main character, Andy Dufresne, a falsely convicted murderer, finds himself in a prison where abuse of all kinds routinely runs rampant. Something is different about Andy, however. As his friend and fellow inmate, Red, describes, “He had a quiet way about him, a walk and a talk that just wasn’t normal around here. He strolled, like a man in a park without a care or a worry in the world, like he had an invisible coat that would shield him from this place.”
While this character’s hope came from a fictional place there have been many accounts of people who have attributed their psychological, spiritual and mental survival in places such as war camps and prison cells to the hope they have in Christ and the freedom that accompanies this hope.
Thankfully not all people are subject to the extremes of torture, starvation and abuse as occur in war and prison. No human being is exempt however, when it comes to the struggles of life and certainly no one can escape from themselves. Isn’t it true that wherever you go, wherever you try to hide, there you will be? The older one becomes, the more this reality will have set in and left its mark. Perhaps this is why we so often see or imagine greener grass on the far side of the hill only to find it ruined shortly after arrival by the dragging shackles of the ‘self’. Is it no wonder then that the Scriptures teach us that we must die to self in order that we may live?
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
When life appears as a vast ocean in which we struggle to stay afloat, how comforting it is to feel a solid foundation under our feet. The waves may continue to envelop us with their wild fury but the rock on which we stand holds us tall and steady in the white wash; our emerging faces finding comfort in the warm glow of the sunshine above. On Christ the solid rock we stand; a foundation of truth eternally anchored in the Triune God. This truth, God’s enduring, unchanging truth, cannot be moved or broken. Rest and salvation available to the exhausted water treader being pulled every which way by the currents of life, trying desperately to maintain control in their own strength.
Surely this is the truth of which Martin Luther King spoke as he powerfully proclaimed, “So if the Son [Christ] sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)
It is the reality of who we are in Christ that has the power to set us free from any situation in which we may find ourselves as we come to the realization that he is with us in all circumstances. There is nothing that can be done to us that can put an end to this reality. The world and even death have been defeated. When Jesus uttered his final words before giving up his spirit on the cross, he confirmed, “It is finished.” (John 19:30) The word finished in this part of Scripture means, ‘paid in full’.
The apostle Paul truly understood the power of hope in Christ as he often suffered for his faith. It is for this reason we can be encouraged by his words:
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
While the unrelenting pressures of this life may not make diamonds out of us, we have something immeasurably more valuable than any precious jewel – the chance to really live for something infinitely bigger than ourselves. Here we find hope. Here we are set free. Here we live in Christ.