“Another testament of Jesus Christ.”
I think that’s my summary phrase for this classic work of fiction. Unfortunately, “another testament of Jesus Christ” is already in common use in reference to the Book of Mormon, so such a designation may merely confuse. But I can’t help but see the significance of this book as a companion to the Christian life and handbook on the Gospel message.
My motivation for reading this book, apart from the simple fact that it is classic 19th century fiction, was the result of watching the movie Anna and the King, the 1999 cinematic adaptation of the musical “The King and I.” In it, a British teacher provides a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin to the crown prince of Siam (Thailand). Later on, the king returns the book to the teacher, warning that she should not give such culture-shaking literature to his son.
It caused me to wonder: what kind of powerful message must this book contain?
Other than that, I had no expectations for the book, besides knowing that it was about slavery in the United States.
To my delight, I found it to be another testament of Jesus Christ, or perhaps: another testimony to Jesus Christ. I lost count of how many times the message of salvation in Jesus Christ was put forth in this book–from the dying words of a 6-year old girl, to the altruistic life lived of a hard-working slave, at times beloved and at others berated. Over and again the message of freedom in Christ, the hope of eternity, forgiveness, forbearance, submission, the Word of Life found in the Bible–these themes form the core of much of the dialogue throughout.
It also touches on various angles of potential hypocrisy within Christianity, as preachers claimed that the Bible supported the enslavement of an entire race, holding them inferior, and yet somehow also agreeing that the fellow people were not mere animals, that they possessed the same eternal soul as any land-owning white person.
I especially appreciated the diatribe about the common inconsistency of perspective regarding cross-cultural missionary service within Christianity: many people are content to fund and send someone to go to another culture and dwell among a community there, in hopes of reforming them and calling the natives to Christianity, but few Christians would themselves be willing to take even one unregenerate soul into their own home, to share their life, with the same hope of redeeming them from lostness. Missionary service and the salvation of souls can often be much more attractive from a distance.
The theme of stewardship is also prominent. It strikes me that one of the frequent justifications for dehumanizing mistreatment of slaves is that landowners considered the slaves to be their property, their possessions, and that as a result of purchasing them, they could do as they pleased with them. Beyond the obvious error of regarding another human being as property, there is a distinct lack of proper perspective on stewardship: with regards to any of our possessions, we cannot simply do as we like–we are charged by God to manage them well, to use them as part of our ministry to the world as we engage in the service of His Kingdom and fulfill our callings as His ambassadors. It’s not appropriate to simply use as we choose, let alone misuse, anything that’s been entrusted to us. And so, the double errors of (1) regarding people as possessions, and (2) believing that we have autonomy in using our possessions, become a significant reminder throughout this novel.
Another testament of Jesus Christ. Though a work of fiction, this book lays out for us vivid models of practical Christianity, as the variety of characters attempt to live out their myriad beliefs and convictions. Some moved to charity, as a result of confrontation and correction. Some given to despair, as they refuse to be reformed. A few fighting on behalf of the souls of others, trying to win them to a life of redemption.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin–both the fictional dwelling place and the classic novel–stand for us as monuments to the power, and also the ruin, that can come through the intersection of life and belief. For some, Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a testimony to deliverance and redemption, to lives changed through love and service. For others, Uncle Tom’s Cabin is an empty shack, bereft of its occupant because of the tyranny brought on by the outworking of a skewed theology.
Love one other. Steward well. And read Uncle Tom’s Cabin if you’re not sure what either of those means. You’ll find positive and negative examples of each in this classical work, the foundation of which goes far beyond the 1800’s, but back to the Word of God itself.