Tag Archives: Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Reflections on “the problem of evil”

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I have been reflecting on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, it has made me think about “the problem of evil.” In fact, at the end of the book Tom himself, one of the spiritual heroes of the book, is wrestling with the problem himself. In the book, there are all sorts of terrible realities that represent actual events. Injustice after injustice happen to the people in the story, and again, these stories are based on actual real life events.

One could try to do away with these sad and confused thoughts by just saying that slavery ended long ago. However, this does not solve the problem. Evil continues, injustice continues, ramifications continue. Further, there is still slavery. There is still abuse. Some live life as a mere dash in-between agony and futility. That is all they know, tossed on an endless wave of seemingly nothingness. So one does not escape the question by saying things are now good, or at least not so bad. What then is the answer to the pain, the suffering, the injustice?! Why do people, millions of people, live painful lives, just to die in greater pain?

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Slavery and its defeat

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At the time of the writing of the New Testament, in the Roman Empire, there were essentially three classes of people: The rich, the slaves (about half the population), and freemen. These “freemen” were free in that they were not owned by anyone, yet they often went hungry because of their “freedom.” Whereas, slaves sometimes had good masters and sometimes had bad masters.

Slavery in Rome was not what it was like in America 150 years ago.

“In Paul’s day, slavery was not based on race. Additionally, slaves had any number of duties and responsibilities, ranging from farming, mining, and milling to cooking, teaching, and managing. Furthermore, slaves were not infrequently freed from the shackles of slavery (a process known as manumission).

There is no mistaking the fact, however, that slavery in the Greco-Roman world was degrading, dehumanizing, and downright disgusting. Taken together, slaves were perceived and treated as property and were frequently subject to unimaginable punishments based on their maters’ malevolent whims. Indeed, Roman historian Cassius Dio tells of an especially cruel slave owner, Vedius Pollio, who had slaves who displeased him thrown into a pool of flesh-eating eels.”[1]

So, what was slavery’s defeat? Harriet Beecher Stowe said:

“The Christian master was directed to receive his Christianized slave, ‘NOT now as a slave, but above a slave, a brother beloved [Philemon 16];’ and, as in all these other cases, nothing was said to him about the barbarous powers which the Roman law gave him, since it was perfectly understood that he could not at the same time treat him as a brother beloved and as a slave in the sense of [unconstitutional] Roman law.

When, therefore, the question is asked, why did not the apostles seek the abolition of slavery, we answer, they did seek it. They sought it by the safest, shortest, and most direct course which could possibly have been adopted.”[2]

Paul’s system founded on Jesus the Christ—Jesus who came to serve and not be served—subverts any form of human oppression.[3] So, we see Paul lays the necessary groundwork for the emancipation proclamation. The gospel has changed the basic structure of the way Paul looks at the world and it should change the way we see the world as well. Continue reading


Learning from Literature: Uncle Tom’s Cabin

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This is a gripping book in many ways. I think every American should read it. It has brought me to tears on more than one occasion. History is an important teacher. It can smack you in the face with past realities so that you don’t get smacked in the face by present ones. We, as Christians, must be discerning, and realize that the same foil may come in a different guise.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin reminds us that Scripture is often interpreted in the darkness of cultural situations without the light of a clear and unbiased perspective. As soon as society changes so will the interpretation of the text. Where are the Harriet Beecher Stowes who will stand up for what the text is saying however unpopular it may be? As Stowe said, if the cotton trade was no longer needed people’s understanding on slavery would be changed, there previous “understanding” would no longer be needed.

Of course, the issue then was slavery but Stowe makes a valid point for any day. Hermeneutics (i.e. the science of interpretation) seeks to understand what the text means.[1] However, we often view the text in light of our own context instead of the original context. We interpret texts many times to mean what we want them to mean and not what they really mean. We put a spin on things to suite ourselves. It is much like what the media can do with a sound bit. If you look at words out of their context, you can make them mean almost whatever what you want. We should take hints from history and seek to not make the same blunders.

What texts or issues do we dismiss outright or misinterpret to our benefit? Who or what are you avoiding listening to or reading? I am inclined to think that our (my!) use (or ill use) of money is one area where we tend to reinterpret Scripture.[2] Or what about God’s command for us to be holy? It’s pretty easy to knock that command down to moral, isn’t it? We think: other people watch this movie, even other “good” people. Yet, did you see where the thinking went wrong? We are not merely commanded to be good, moral, or culturally acceptable; we are called to be set apart as God’s own people. God’s holiness is our standard. Not our neighbors.

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[1] Which implies application. You don’t truly understand something until you understand how it applies… further, you might say you don’t truly understand something until it is applied. At least, I think this is the case with Scripture.

[2] I realize that there has been a lot of harm done in this area by people laying legalistic blanket commands that are neither helpful nor biblical. Yet, the Bible and Jesus do speak much of, and strongly about, wealth and the stewardship that we have of it. So what I am saying is we must make sure that we are not just dismissing texts on wealth and the right use of wealth but honestly evaluating what God is calling us to. It is too easy, as history demonstrates, to be blinded by the now. This applies to wealth, it applies to many things.


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