Freedom Through Hardship

Do not eat it with bread made with yeast, but for seven days eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, because you left Egypt in haste—so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt. -Deuteronomy 16:3

Dear members and friends of the Swedenborgian Church,

Nostalgia is a very interesting word, concept, and notion. Often, I encounter it used in a positive way to recall “the good old days.” As I get older, I seem to develop a tendency to look back when I was in my twenties, and say, “That was such a good time!” Yet, nostalgia to me is not so much a positive feeling about the good times in the past, but rather it is a saddening moment when I get to fully acknowledge and to be conscious of what is gone forever through the passing of time. In a way, nostalgia is a very unfair comparison between good memories of the past and hard realities in the present. We cannot help but yearn for good memories from the past, but soon we are forced to be back in the present and face the truth that the past is gone for good.

In the Bible, especially in Deuteronomy, God emphasizes that the Israelites should forever remember something from their past, but it was a difficult memory rather than a pleasant one. By the institution of Passover, what God seems to intend to forever highlight in their memory is the pain and suffering of the slavery they escaped in Egypt. In other words, God commanded the Israelites to forever remember their suffering and hard-won freedom, but not victory. Why? The truth is that there was no victory to celebrate to begin with. And although they were freed from being slaves, they were about to face a life that would become more troublesome and painful than even living in Egypt! From being slaves to becoming children of God, they were required to undergo a long, painful journey of cleansing, reaffirming, and reforming. This is symbolically illustrated by their wandering in the wilderness for forty years.

Spiritually speaking, being a slave or more precisely acknowledging one’s slavehood is a very necessary step for spiritual growth. It’s ironic, but without the experience of being a slave, one may never fully understand the true value of freedom. According to Swedenborg, the story of Exodus illustrates the critical necessity of acknowledging our innate slavery to self-interest and materialistic pleasures, and then the necessity of inviting and accepting the help of God. Yet, the most important part to remember is that our exit out of slavery does not happen naturally or by our own power. Furthermore, there will most certainly be a long journey ahead of us until we arrive at the promised land. Be ready and prepared for a long and painful journey in the wilderness if you truly desire to obtain your spiritual freedom.

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee