Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. (Deuteronomy 5.15)
I first heard of “slave mentality” from Bishop Charles Blake, the greatest preacher and pastor I’ve ever known. He described it as doctored memories of past emotional and/or physical abuse. Psychologists refer to a similar dysfunction as Stockholm syndrome, a hostage’s delusional devotion to his/her captors. Slave mentality is chronic Stockholm syndrome. After breaking free of unjust intimidation and cruelty, issues concomitant with living free tempt us to romanticize our captivity as better than it actually was. If we’re not careful, we’ll go back to thinking like slaves instead of living by faith. Reversion to fears and behaviors fostered by people, doctrines, and pressures that once controlled us cancels present and future freedom God wants us to enjoy. In Galatians 5.1, Paul warns us not to fall for such ideas: "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."
God mercifully spares some of us of this by entrusting us to healthy, free-minded families and communities. Some of us stumble into coercive relationships on our own. Then, for reasons we can’t understand, some of us are born into captivity. Violence and fear are all we know until God intervenes. Such is the Israelites’ case when He delivers them from Pharaoh. Since none of them has ever known freedom, they feel their way into it. From the far side of the Red Sea, Egypt looks truly despicable. But once their euphoria of freedom lifts, the Israelites respond to every setback with moans about how much easier life in Egypt was. Crazy as it sounds, we who’ve experienced oppression and abuse can relate to their panicked confusion. We recognize why they’re prone to choose knowing what to fear over fearing the unknown. Fortunately, Israel saves itself over and over by asking the question Bishop Blake often put to those of us in his care—a question we all should ask ourselves. Do we want to go back to Egypt?
Escaping our Egypts seldom brings an end to our suffering. Memories stain our minds and defensiveness hobbles our behavior. To make the most of present freedom, we learn to live with the past without living in it. Still, we struggle to comprehend why God would deliver us out of tormenting situations yet leave our mental and emotional scars intact. It seems patently unfair—to the point of cruelty. Deuteronomy 5.15 offers invaluable insight into His reason for this. “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm,” it says. Memories of where we’ve been remain to remind us God brought us out of there.
Childhood trauma, parental neglect, religious bigotry, abusive partners, self-destructiveness, unfaithful friends, and other circumstances that held us hostage persist in memory to sustain the joy and gratitude we felt when God brought us out. Just as we resist any temptation to fall into slave mentality, harnessing memory to celebrate freedom from the past is no less essential. It gives us cause to rejoice in where we are now and how far we’ve come. It teaches us to thank God for His goodness instead of questioning His motives. And recognizing how much He’s already done reinforces our trust He’ll continue to move in our behalf. Philippians 1.6 urges us to be “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” Deliverance and healing are progressive processes. God ministers to our suffering continuously, relentlessly. While He deals with our pain, we deal with our doubts, knowing He’ll finish the work He began in us by bringing us out.
Power and Reach
God tells the Israelites to remember He brought them out of Egypt with “a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” Likewise, we can’t forget the enormity of His power and reach. When He lifts us out of trauma, He grips us with a strength that defies any force on Earth to hold us down. Those who intimidate and condemn us must let go. God crushes their ability to control our thoughts and emotions. Surrounded by His mighty hand, we exult with the psalmist, saying, “The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118.6) Standing safely on the Red Sea’s banks, Moses and Miriam sing: “Your right hand, O LORD, was majestic in power. Your right hand, O LORD, shattered the enemy.” (Exodus 15.6) That’s our song, too.
When God brings us out, He puts a sea between our captors and us, removing us from their range of influence. The longest tentacles are no match for His reach. Returning to Moses and Miriam, we hear: “In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.” (v13) David echoes their assurance in Psalm 27.5: “For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.” God hides us from future danger and harm. Remembering we were slaves is how we know we’re free. Remembering abuses of power and trust we once endured increases our trust in God’s enduring power once and for all. Remembering where we were increases our security in where we are. Remembering Egypt stiffens our resolve to press on, no matter how many setbacks we face. Now that we’re out of there, there’s no going back.
Do we want to go back to Egypt?
(Tomorrow: Tinkering with Truth)