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"THE MENTAL PRISON" - A PARABLE
by Malcolm Bowden.
(This first appeared in "Our Inheritance" Magazine)

There was once a man who became so weary of dealing with the burdens and problems of life that he eventually crawled into a cave to try and find some rest. It seemed so quiet and peaceful at first but after quite some time it slowly dawned upon him that he was not in a quiet cave but in a damp, dark and gloomy prison with thick bars. He could see the crowds beyond but was deeply frustrated that he could not reach them and return to normal life with them.
He called out from his cell for help and several people came rushing to his assistance who said they were experts in helping people in prisons. Each expert said they had the right solution, but strangely, every one was different to the others. One tried to make the prisoner so thin that he could slip through the bars but this was found impossible. Another said he should imagine he was outside the cell and that would make him happy. There was a rusty lock on the door but they could see no key in it. Some started to pull on the bars of the door and the prisoner pushed as well - but the door refused to budge an inch. So they went away to discuss what they could do, but realising that they could not open the door, they decided to make the prisoner as comfortable as possible where he was.
Whilst they were talking in their professional huddle, a passer-by saw the commotion, and came over to see what was happening. He looked at the type of door and its lock and realised that he had seen this type of door thousands of times before. The first thing he noticed was that there WAS a key in the lock but the experts had not seen it because IT WAS ON THE PRISONER'S SIDE. Then he made a close inspection of the whole door and confirmed that it was exactly the same pattern that he had seen so often before. Whilst the experts were still in a huddle discussing what they should do, the stranger came up to the bars and whispered to the prisoner that he should turn the key on HIS side and then open the door open by pulling INWARDS.
At first, the prisoner did not believe the key was on his side, and it took some persuasion to get him to look for it as it was so rusted that it was hardly distinguishable from the rust on the lock. Eventually he tried to turn the key but he found it very difficult. When at last he had turned it, he tugged gently on the door expecting it to open. When it did not move at all he became quite angry; "See, you're wrong; it still doesn't open." Then the stranger said "The reason it did not move is because you have been so long in the prison that the hinges have rusted and it will take some effort to get them moving again. I can assure you that it will work if you try hard to do it, and only you can open it from the inside. I have been able to show many prisoners in this very common type of cell how they can pull the door open and get themselves free."
The prisoner, feeling that he must try this as a last resort, took hold of the bars on the door and gave them an almighty tug. The door did not seem to move, but a close inspection showed that it had opened by just 1/4 of an inch. "I can't get through that tiny gap" complained the prisoner. "But keep trying and it will gradually yield if you continue to pull hard enough." Again the prisoner yanked hard on the door, and this time it moved 1/2 inch. "You see" said the stranger "it will gradually open more easily." Another yank opened it a further full inch. "Keep going." encouraged the stranger, "All this effort will make you stronger than many people outside when you are free."
By this time, however, all the experts in the huddle heard the terrible squealing noise made by the rusty hinges as they creaked open and ran to see that was happening. They were aghast at what they saw; the prisoner was sweating profusely from his exertions and panting heavily. "Stop, stop, stop" they cried. "You are doing yourself a terrible injury. Look how you are sweating and puffing. You could easily pull a muscle in trying to open the door on your own. If you strain your back you will be in great pain. In fact, having been in prison for so long, you are in such poor condition that you could even have a heart attack and die. You could do yourself serious harm - permanently. Don't listen to the advice this unqualified ignoramus is giving."
Then they turned upon the stranger; "How dare you interfere with our work. WE are the experts and we have spent our lives helping people in prisons trying to make them feel more comfortable. What do YOU know about the workings of this prison? Can't you see how thick the bars are? We are so dedicated to this work that we now depend upon it for our livelihood. So we strongly resent your unwanted and unwarranted intrusion into our affairs. We have succeeded in making the prisoners far more happy where they are, so go away and leave well alone." With that, the stranger was brusquely hustled away and they resumed their discussions on how they could make the poor prisoner as comfortable as could be inside the prison. They provided him with a nice soft bed, running hot water and showers, TV and pretty pictures around the cell to make him feel that he was outside in the sunshine. All this cost a great deal of money in equipment and salaries, and for some strange reason, they virtually gave up trying to get the prisoner out of his cell; they just made him more comfortable.

So THAT poor prisoner never did get out into the real sunshine - and is there to this day.

But the stranger still went around hoping that he would be able to get his message through to some prisoners. He desperately wanted to tell them how they could open their cell door from the inside and then, not just be free to live with the crowds again, but go on to join those who were revelling in the warmth pouring down on them from the Son.


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