Virtue, Freedom and Redemption

Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Vice President at Family Research Council. This article appeared in Religion Today on July 28, 2013.

In a Japanese prison camp during the Second World War, a British solider named Dusty Miller was crucified.

Miller, a gardener by trade, ministered selflessly to his fellow prisoners throughout his captivity. His excruciating execution was performed as an attack on his faith in Christ, which had enabled Dusty not to respond with anger to the cruelty he experienced daily. It also empowered him to serve his fellow prisoners at great personal sacrifice. His persistent kindness and patience so befuddled and enraged one of his captors that, as the war drew to a close, Miller was murdered on a cross, as his Master had been so long ago.

Human nobility, courage and love contrasted with human hate, violence, irrationality and rage: This is humankind in microcosm, a demonstration of the potency of redemption and the capacity for goodness versus the deliberate flourishing of evil and the conscious enactment of it.

The nature of man is unique, dignified and corrupt. The only being in the universe made in the "image and likeness of God" (Gen. 1:26-27), he is the great exception to the rest of material creation: He is capable of a relationship, both temporal and eternal, with his Creator.

But he is also fallen, sin in some way discoloring even the most vivid of his qualities and achievements. No less an authority than Jesus taught that "out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander" (Matthew 15:19). In this, He echoes the cry of Jeremiah, "the heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9).

Jesus also affirmed man's great worth both by becoming one of us and, in our place, taking the eternal punishment we deserve as He hung on the cross. He assured His disciples that they were worth more than many sparrows, and took small children into His arms (Matthew 10:31, Mark 9:36-37). Implicitly and explicitly, God incarnate declared the extraordinary value of the apex of His creation - people.

Dignity and deceitfulness. Nobility and corruption. Great value and great shame. This is the biblical vision of man.

How does this relate to politics? Without a proper understanding of the nature of man, political action becomes dangerous. If man is viewed as merely material, he will be oppressed. If he is viewed as perfectible, he will be coerced. If he is viewed as unimportant, he will be murdered.

But if he is viewed as both inherently fallen and intrinsically valuable, he will be honored and constrained with wisdom and liberty in right proportion. This is the foundation for the biblical teaching about the way the state should treat men.

Religious, political, and social liberty are grounded in the idea that men can sufficiently restrain their basest impulses and function with civility toward one another. As the forge of virtue, the traditional family, declines, so with it decline self-restraint, honor, and decency. Such a state of affairs historically has bred fascism.

For us to keep a free society, we have to govern ourselves, or else the ensuring chaos will produce repression and coercion. Personal self-government begins with virtue, and virtue begins the conscience ("the law written on the heart," Romans 2:15) and God's self-revelation in Scripture.

Dusty Miller was a man of virtue. He died at a young age because he loved God and loved others. His death came at the hands of a man who hated God and so dehumanized his prisoner that, to him, Miller's crucifixion was merely a fitting, if brutal, taunt. Men need Christ, culture needs God, and human nature needs redemption - or, in its absence, appropriate temporal restraint. This is what Dusty Miller, decades after his martyrdom, still teaches us.