12 Years a Slave

Recently my wife and I went to see the film ’12 Years a Slave’, a graphic dramatisation of the autobiographical account of Solomon Northup’s experiences  as a slave. Set in the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon, a free black man from upstate New York, enjoyed the privileges of wealth and education. As an accomplished violinist he is duped into visiting Washington with two gentlemen on the pretext that he has been hired to accompany their circus tour. Barely has he arrived when he is abducted and sold into slavery under the name of a runaway slave called Platt. What follows is a harrowing depiction of his personal struggle to retain his dignity, and even his life, as daily he faces the dehumanising brutality of being a slave on a cotton plantation. Spoiler alert! Finally an opportunity for salvation presents itself in the form of a Canadian carpenter called Bass who is opposed to slavery. The film ends with Solomon being freed and reunited with his family.

Living as we do 170 years after these events they seem barbaric and unconscionable. St Paul however lived at a time when slavery was a fundamental part of the fabric of society. Looking for a way to describe the power that our rejection of God (which the bible calls sin) has over our lives he writes: I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.[1] Paul is not endorsing human slavery; rather he is using it to illustrate our inability to rescue ourselves from our rebellion against God. Just as Solomon Northup was dominated by his new slave masters, so our sinful nature dominates and enslaves us. Just as Solomon needed a mediator to arrange his release from slavery, we need a saviour to set us free from sin. A few sentences later Paul tells us that Jesus Christ is that Saviour: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.[2]

Unlike Solomon we have a choice; we can agree with the Bible’s assessment that we are slaves to sin, deserving death and accept God’s gift of eternal life in Christ or we can ignore it and face the consequences. Which will you choose?

David Grant

[1] The New International Version. (2011). (Romans 6:19).

[2] The New International Version. (2011). (Romans 6:23).

This blog post featured in the March 2014 edition of Hook Focus