Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Slavery to Sin

I’m reading Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and have been struck by a theme she’s developing. One slave is sold from his relatively comfortable place with a well-meaning family in Kentucky and taken further and further south where plantation work might very well kill him. Another escapes from that same Kentucky family and travels further and further north, fleeing oppression and seeking freedom.

One remains enslaved and likely ultimately finds death; the other finds freedom and eventually new life.

Whether Stowe meant this metaphor or not, it is a powerful representation of the way sin operates. If we remain enslaved to sin, it leads to death. If we are set free from it, we are given new life.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23.)

Happily, Jesus sets people free so that we no longer face even the prospect of the death that sin brings. As he told his friends:

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36.)

God’s people aren’t free from committing sins, of course. It’s just that because of what Jesus accomplished, those sins do not define us or our destiny.

Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25.)

We are no longer slaves to sin but are free and beloved children of God.

So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. (Galatians 4:7.)

God loves his children and has made us his heirs.

I like this freedom.


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14 Responses to Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Slavery to Sin

  1. Very powerful illustration of the gospel.

  2. Jeannie says:

    That’s really interesting, Tim. I’ve never read that book. Adriana would love this post if she were online right now!

    • Tim says:

      She’s the one whose writing on Stowe got me to read the book finally. I was so glad to find a beautiful hard-bound copy at a used book store a while back.

      • Adriana says:

        Aww…shucks you guys! My ears were itching so I had to hop online and see what was up.

        So glad you’ve read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Tim. I agree with you that the two paths portrayed in the the story — one which leads to death and the other to life — are indeed a powerful representation of the way sin operates.

        I wish I could get some feedback from African Americans about their take on the character of Uncle Tom. I asked a black friend of mine what came to her mind when I said “Uncle Tom” and she said, “A black person who tries to be white.”

        Here’s the definition from the Urban Dictionary: “A black man who will do anything to stay in good standing with “the white man” including betray his own people.”

        How can that be? In the story Tom sacrificed himself for his people.

        For those who are not familiar with the story: Uncle Tom and a house slave named Eliza were the most valued slaves on the Shelby plantation. Eliza overhears that her master has fallen into tremendous debt, to the point of near bankruptcy. He is in a serious quandary: if he loses all his property that means his entire plantation will be broken up. Mothers and fathers will be separated from their children on the auction-block to satisfy Shelby’s debtors. (This was how HBS made the point that even kind, well meaning slave owners were deceiving themselves.)

        The sale of Uncle Tom and Eliza would be enough to stave off total disaster. So with a heavy heart, Shelby decides to sell these two to a trader who will auction them in New Orleans. Conditions for slaves in the deep South were known to be far worse than in more northern slave holding states like Kentucky where Uncle Tom’s cabin was located.

        Eliza is desperate. She has a baby! She makes up her mind in an instant: she’s running away. Everything hangs on Uncle Tom. Eliza warns him of what’s coming. She tells him she’s running. He gives her his blessing! The next day Tom goes into chains without a fight. He lays his life down for his friends and loved ones — willingly.

        So, I don’t understand. How did Uncle Tom betray his people?

        • Tim says:

          Good summary, Adriana. And I agree that the modern meaning of the phrase has no resemblance to the title character of the book. (Not the first time something like this has happened to an author’s creation I bet.)

  3. Rev. Carlene Appel says:

    “Because of what Jesus accomplished, those sins do not define us or our destiny”
    Excellent point to highlight Tim and something everyone needs to hear. Satan so often uses that to keep people down and mired in their sins because they think they have committed something unpardonable.

  4. 3boxesofbs says:

    For me the analogy of walking resonates strongly; backpacking, hiking and climbing is something I did as a kid (Scout) and adult (Scouter). Jesus commands us to follow Him; the path He wants me to walk leads to salvation.
    I usually run into trouble when I strike out on my own; thorns, rougher going, getting lost. If I turn completely away from His Path; I find like you said, that path leads to slavery.

  5. Pingback: Tragedy and God in Uncle Tom’s Cabin | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

  6. Pingback: Tragedy and God in Uncle Tom’s Cabin | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

  7. Mary Schneider says:

    One of those books I can’t read.
    Slavery is not a historical concept. It is alive and well, but now we call it “human trafficking.” I read the opening chapter of the book and was struck not by the horror of “how things were” but by the horror of how similar some things still are.

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