Claustrophobics and the gospel

“He brought me out to a wide-open space; He rescued me because He delighted in me” (2 Samuel 22:20).

Wedged into the middle seat on a flight from Nashville to New Orleans recently, the thought occurred to me that if a person were claustrophobic, he would run screaming from this plane.

The Southwest flight was completely sold-out and several times the flight attendant announced that all the overhead bins were filled and other passengers would have to check their baggage.  I managed to squeeze in between two full grown men, which meant our shoulders were practically bumping.  The one hour ten minute flight ends up taking another half-hour because we board early in order to wedge everyone into this sardine can.

Tight spaces.  It’s a way of life these days.

Ever had an MRI?  I did, some 20 years ago. And the funny thing about it is that I had no idea what was about to happen.  Old trusting me, I crawled into that tube without a clue that I would not be allowed to move a muscle for the next 45 minutes.  When they asked if I’d like headphones and music, I said no, that I would recite scripture.  I did that all right, but had to work to be heard over the hammering of the resonating machine.  (This is when I knew definitely I am not claustrophobic.  Whew!)

The one time my wife and I visited Egypt, we both walked all the way into the Great Pyramid to the tiny inner chamber where some pharaoh’s sarcophagus once lay. To get there, you enter a narrow passageway, walk maybe fifty feet, then climb a ladder to another narrow passage.  You repeat this several times as you are entering the bowels of the most massive collection of marble blocks on the planet.  Eventually, you get there.  Your mind refuses to consider where you actually are lest you panic.

My dad had his photo taken inside the coal mines in 1948 by Ollie Atkins who would later become Nixon’s White House photographer.  Atkins was shooting scenes to illustrate a Saturday Evening Post series on “The Bloody Price of Coal.”  Dad and a co-worker were on their knees with shovels or something, their faces so blackened by coaldust we had to be told that was our father.  The notes underneath the picture said the seam of coal they were digging was 36 inches.  My mind reels. They are a mile inside the West Virginia mountain, with a zillion tons of earth and rocks over their heads, with light from a few dim bulbs and the battery-operated thing on their caps, and they are squeezed into that slit in the earth.  And they are there for eight hours today and eight more tomorrow.  For 35 years Dad did this, beginning when he was 14 and continuing until the doctors put him on disability due to heart and lung conditions.

I once took a two hour guest ride in an Air Force trainer called the T-38.  It’s a needle-nosed jet, with one pilot in the front and the other (moi!) in the back.  I had spent several hours that morning suiting up in a G-suit, being fitted for a helmet, taught how to use the parachute and the ejection seat (just in case!), and then, lowered into the tiny interior of that cockpit.  When the canopy was lowered in place, I dared not move.

Claustrophobics need not apply.

I’m thinking of the old cowboy song, “Don’t fence me in.” Something about giving me “wide open spaces.”

Life has a way of fencing us in.

David said, “I will rejoice and be glad in your faithful love…. You have set my feet in a spacious place” (Psalm 31:7-8).

Job’s friend Elihu told the suffering saint, “(God) lured you from the jaws of distress to a spacious and unconfined place; your table was spread with choice food….” (Job 36:16).

It’s a metaphor, a figure of speech, intended to convey some special truth to those transformed by the grace of the living God.  What do you suppose “a spacious and unconfined place” means to those putting trust in the Lord?

God enlarges us. He opens our minds and hearts to people, to Himself, to new ideas and greater things.  We become “larger people,” so to speak, by His presence.  “You enlarge my heart” (Psalm 119:32).

Sin cramps us, shrinks us, hems us in.

God frees us.  Contrary to the pilot’s announcement on the plane, I was not “free to get up and move around as necessary.”  I was literally “confined.”  And for 70 minutes on a plane at 30,000 feet, I’m fine with that.  The couple of hours of inconvenience saved me a day and a half of highway travel.

Sin is a bondage. Sin weighs us down (see Hebrews 12:1) and binds us.  God had promised Israel if they obeyed Him, they would be “on top and not the bottom” (see Deuteronomy 28:13).  Watch any football scrimmage, and you’ll find yourself pitying the poor guys under the bottom of a pileup.  They can hardly move, and sometimes they emerge with bones broken.

God makes us bigger people than we were before.

Ask any adult who came to Christ after a lifetime of self-centered living.  Listen to their stories of cramped, penned-in living, and revel in their delight in the mercies of Christ and the freedom they find in Him.

Satan is a liar and the father of lies.  He slanders the Heavenly Father on this very point and scares those caught in his snares away from the gospel with lies about burdens of law-keeping and the hazards of religion.

Sin shuts us up and locks us in.

Jesus Christ makes us free. “If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).

We who are followers of Jesus Christ must demonstrate the liberty (the authentic liberty: the freedom to do God’s will) we were given in Him.  If we are caught in vices and addicted to anything–religion included, but also cigarettes or drugs or alcohol or our hobby–we represent Him poorly and repel people from Christ.  Likewise, we must not use our liberty as a license to sin.  Scripture speaks of this in numerous places.

I pray others will be attracted to Jesus by seeing the “enlarged” person He has made of me.




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