I love the story of President Lincoln who is said to have come upon a slave auction one day in New Orleans. As he watched the disturbing event, he noticed a young black girl being auctioned and decided he would bid on her himself.
With every bid offered, Lincoln offered a dollar more until eventually he claimed the girl. Then he told her she was now free to go. But in disbelief, the girl questioned Lincoln. So again he assured her she was free.
This remains one of my favorite Abraham Lincoln stories, though it’s been told so often it’s hard to know how many of the exact details remain unchanged. But the essence is true. Lincoln’s views on race may not have been as enlightened as they would have been today, but his political writings are filled with his distaste for inequality or the idea that one person can “own” another.
In a letter to Joshua Speed, Lincoln’s closest friend and confidant, on August 24, 1855 he wrote, “You know I dislike slavery: and you fully admit the abstract wrong of it.”
I enjoy this story because the picture of being purchased then set free is what the message of Christ is all about. But freedom is an interesting concept.
We like to think of ourselves as free, and in a democracy like ours, we have plenty of reasons to celebrate. Even on a bad day, I’ll take America any day of the week.
But the fact is, a lot of us are held captive by people or things we’re not even aware of. Some of us have given ourselves over willingly. Others of us have put up a heck of a fight.
Some of us have even chosen to use the freedom God has given us against Him. We ignore Him or label Him obsolete. And we see the evidence of this rejection everywhere.
In an interview after 9/11, Billy Graham’s daughter was asked how God could let such a terrible thing happen. Her answer, now legendary, was both painful and profound:
“I believe that God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are. For years we’ve been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?”
A friend recently told me he doesn’t believe in God or any kind of judgement. I told him I wish I didn’t either. But I’ve hedged my bets with God, and because of it, He’s proven Himself trustworthy.
He stood at the auction block and outbid the things that threatened to enslave me most, like fear, guilt, and bitterness.
Now I’m like the slave girl who instinctively knows to stay close to the One who has chosen to set her free.
“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” (Galatians 5:1).
(Look for Permission to Doubt. Published by Kregel. Wherever books are sold.)