“De oppresso liber”, commonly translated “to liberate the oppressed” is the motto of U.S. Army Special Forces. The phrase stems from the exploits of World War II Office of Strategic Services Jedburgh/Sussex Teams operating behind the lines in France. Colonel Aaron Bank, father of United States Army Special Forces, and his teams enabled the French Resistance to grow and oppose the occupying German Army.
Although the phrase “to liberate the oppressed” might not be an exact grammatical and literal translation, the point is well made. Liberating oppressed peoples has always been a primary goal of U.S. Special Forces.
Perhaps one of the greatest symbols of oppression in the history of mankind was the Berlin Wall. We were stationed in Berlin between 1984 and 1987. When we were stationed in Berlin in the late 80’s, we were able to capture a picture of a small part of the Wall that depicted the goal of German people living on both sides:
The need to liberate oppressed peoples is nothing new, nor is it a goal or mission reserved for the temporal realm.
God raised up the Prophet Isaiah to accuse the leaders of a rebellious nation of not caring for the oppressed and remind them of their obligations as rulers:
“Learn to do well:
relieve the oppressed
judge for the fatherless,
defend the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17)
Perhaps the most significant of the church fathers, Augustine of Hippo recognized that liberating those who are oppressed was one of the solemn responsibilities of pastoral ministry. In a sermon celebrating the anniversary of his ordination as a Bishop he eloquently described how he saw his duties:
“The turbulent have to be corrected,
The faint-hearted cheered up,
The weak supported;
The Gospel’s opponents need to be refuted,
Its insidious enemies guarded against;
The unlearned need to be taught,
The indolent stirred up,
The argumentative checked;
The proud must be put in their place,
The desperate set on their feet,
Those engaged in quarrels reconciled;
The needy have to be helped,
The oppressed to be liberated,
The good to be encouraged,
The bad to be tolerated;
All must be loved.”
(St. Augustine, Sermon 340,3: CChr.SL 194, 920.)
Oppression has many faces and affects all levels of society. The list of oppressors and oppressed people groups is too long to try and list here. At the same time, alleviating varying types of oppression (or perceived oppression), both from America’s past and existing today, has become a priority and matter of debate in secular society as well as the church. ‘Social justice’ issues have been declared by some to be integral to the message of the gospel itself instead of an outcome of having embraced the gospel that Christ died for our sins.
All of the above aside for a moment, I would like to ask you a question, and here it is:
“What is the single most dangerous and cruel form of oppression that has existed throughout the history of mankind and still exists today?”
I’ll give you a hint or two.
- It exists in every country/nation on Earth and has affected every person that has ever been born since the fall of Adam.
- It’s not oppression between people or groups of people,
- It has eternal consequences.
(Insert 30 seconds of quiz show music……….)
And the answer is……………SIN.
The greatest oppression that has ever existed in the history of humanity is sin’s oppression of every single person born after the sin of Adam in the Garden of Eden.
Adam and Eve were created with a desire to please God, but also with the ability to disobey. Disobey they did, with disastrous results to follow and affect everyone ever born thereafter.
The Bible tells us about those who are lost to God and separated from Christ by sin:
The lost are slaves to sin.
“Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness.” (Rom 6:16)
The lost are also spiritually dead.
The Apostle Paul told the believers in Ephesus that
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—” (Eph 2:1-2)
The lost are condemned already.
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:18)
That’s a really short list of passages that speak of the oppressed condition of all those separated from God and apart from Christ by sin. Perhaps the harshest description of the lost in the entire Bible is something else Paul told believers in Ephesus:
The lost are the “children of wrath”.
“…we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Eph 2:3)
No earthly oppression can ever compare to the oppression caused by the sin that is in the world that resulted from the disobedience of the first Adam. And there are many who live their happy and content lives oblivious of their condition in abject slavery to that sin.
But there is GOOD news! We don’t have to despair!
“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)
This is the very reason Christ came to Earth so long ago – “to seek and save that which was lost”. That was His mission on earth – the mission that was announced to His earthly father Joseph:
“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt 1:21)
“De Opresso Liber”