By Robert Berendt
How could God be a prisoner and what do we have to do with it?
Freedom is a goal that is elusive since there are many different kinds of prisons or circumstances which impact our freedom. When we attempt to envision ourselves as free, we are immediately confronted with the fact that we humans are subject to gravity, heat and cold, hunger, disease and more. We are also limited by invisible chains of ignorance, the IQ level we are born with, perhaps poor health and so on. We sometimes make our own sort of prison by the choices we make. For example, if we have somehow learned laziness we are usually chained in the prison of poverty (Proverbs 20:4,13 Isaiah 42:7).
We cannot imagine freedom that is not bound in some way. The binding can also be good – like a deep love we have for our children or spouse. Those prisons are restraints we have chosen – and we may even like them. A prison is not always a terrible place of restraint, it can also be a place that we love to enter and be in. The best we can do is strive to understand what binds us and learn to be content or work towards “escape.”
There are a number of proclaimed freedoms that are not freedoms at all, but the ability to work within the limitations we have. For example, we rejoiced in the “freedom” we reached when we humans learned how to develop an aircraft. Now we may be free as birds – except that even birds are subject to many laws that bind them. Heat and cold, gravity, wing shape and condition of flying feathers are all factors that impact flight. These keep us far from the ideal of freedom. We learn to use our minds, to plan, to investigate, to work towards making our dreams and plans come true and adjust them as necessary.
No matter how hard we try, we realize we are prisoners because we are frail humans beings living on an earth that functions according to laws. The degree to which we accept our positions and limitations of those laws are indicative of how much of a prisoner we really are. We may even say we are prisoners of bad habits like smoking, drugs, sex and so on.
The Bible describes some as “prisoners of hope”(Zechariah 9:12). Hope is an abstract goal or objective we are given or that we develop within ourselves. Jewish people hope for the coming of the Messiah and the re-establishment of Israel as promised. Hope is a focus on vague subjects like going to heaven, winning a lottery or an imagined love. The bars of this prison may not be visible, but they hold us strongly. When we try to understand total and complete freedom, no doubt we would focus on the Almighty, the Creator of all things. He is the ever-living One who has complete control of everything. How could He possible be in a prison? How could God be held by anything?
God took four chapters of the Bible to tell Job about His majesty (Job 38,39,40,41). Job came to understand that God can do everything (Job 42:2). God is the Creator of the angels, the universe and all that is in it (Isaiah 40:28, Ezekiel 28:13). Jesus said that with God “all things are possible” (Matt.19:26). Since there is nothing that God cannot do, how could anything restrain Him or hold Him behind bars?
When Jesus Christ was resurrected and given a new spiritual body, He was not subject to the physical laws as we are. Jesus could walk through walls and locked doors (John 20:26). He could fly through the universe into the third heaven and back within a very short period (John 20:17-19). Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus gave many signs as to His divinity, Jesus simply ascended through the atmosphere and universe and was not bound by gravity, distance, speed and that which holds us firmly on earth (Acts 1:9-11). We would say that if we could to all those things we would not be prisoners, we would not be bound. We would be free.
But Almighty God is a prisoner. He has built His own prison just as surely as the Jewish prisoners of Mauthausen, in Austria, built theirs during WWII. The prisoners worked in a rock quarry near the prison and carried the blocks of stone up one by one to build the walls of the prison from which there was no escape. Stones cannot hold God, but He has built a prison from which He cannot escape. God built His own prison and He built it knowingly and willingly. Just as the people of Judah were called “prisoners of hope” (Zecheriah 9:12) and have been held by this unfulfilled hope for generations, so too, God has made Himself a “prisoner of hope” when He created human beings on earth. Paul wrote that God made all of creation subject to futility as He subjected it in hope (Romans 8:20,21).
There is a glorious liberty that God has purposed to give to all who answer according to His purpose (Romans 8:28,29). That purpose was that Christ would be the firstborn among many brethren. Little doubt God’s prison began when the angels who He also created and who also had free moral agency began to rebel. At first they were created with care and love as we see in the description of the creation of Lucifer (Isaiah 14:12-15, Ezekiel 28:12-19). It is clear that God was disappointed with the decision a third of the angels made – because He did not create them so they would become evil and sinful. God who is “Agape” or love, was hurt by their rebellion, and yet knew they were only a part of an even greater plan. It was God’s intention to have children – a “godly offspring” (Malachi 2:5). God also loved all the humans who were potentially His children. He loved them so much that He sent His only begotten Son to pay for their sins (John 3:16). When God loved the whole world, He built a prison for Himself. He hurts when those He loves are hurt even by their own errors (Hosea 11:8,9).
God restricted His own involvement by allowing people to have free moral agency – just as it seems the angels were given. Humans could choose to know good or evil, but God wanted them to choose good – to choose to live forever (Deuteronomy 30:19,20, Romans 6:23). Once God set this course in place, He became a prisoner to His own hope and plan. God hopes that humans will repent and turn to Him so that He can continue to lead them toward eternal life. He wants people to become like Jesus Christ His Son (I John 3:1-3).
Hope is the confident expectation that something we do not yet have will come to pass. God does not yet have His family as He envisioned it. He is a prisoner of the hope and dream He established. This is a willing prison God is in and one that will end in the greatest joy imaginable at the fulfillment of that hope. The result will be worth all that God experienced for His purpose to be completed. Until then the Father and Son continue to work towards reaching the goal of saving as many as possible (John 9:1-5). There will be some sadness when hope is fulfilled because not everyone will have made the choice of obedience to God (Revelation 20:14,15).
God promised there would be children to whom He would give eternal life before time began (Titus 1:1-3). God is a prisoner of hope because He will not force humans to accept His offer of life through Jesus Christ. He first loved us and hopes we will love Him (I John 4:19). He knows that some will repent and gladly turn to Him. Hope still is an unfulfilled dream that God works toward, but that has not yet come to pass. It is His generous gift of His Spirit and justification by His grace that gives humanity the opportunity to become heirs of eternal life (Titus 3:4-8). However people are constantly reminded to change and become the godly offspring God is looking for. God is looking forward to the day that all of His sons and daughters will be in existence within His spiritual family (Revelation 21:1-5). In a way, we humans hold the keys to God’s prison.