Freedom is the theme of this post. I have been thinking about freedom because I will probably have surgery on my foot in July and then be non-weight-bearing for six weeks. I know about the loss of control and freedom that comes with this process. In June 2013, I broke my leg, and after surgery, I was to be non-weight-bearing for about six weeks which turned into four months. All of that time, someone gave me sink bathes, changed my bandages, prepared my meals and took care of other intimate needs. I also spent about three or four weeks in a rehab hospital, then had physical therapy at home and finally did out-patient therapy for a few months.
I will make a few observations about freedom and then inquire about whether we can live in freedom even when our circumstances constrain us. Americans have been known as those who value liberty and freedom, especially from the federal government. As we approach July 4th, Independence Day, many of us will be thinking about the blessings of our freedom and the ways that freedom is threatened today. Freedom is often thought of as freedom from interference and constraint and the right to do what we want if that does not injure someone else. This might be called negative freedom, libertarian freedom or freedom from. Indeed, these are among the definitions given for both freedom and liberty in Webster’s Dictionary.
However, I would like to also hold up what might be called positive freedom or freedom to. There are many meaningful actions that require preparation. I am not free to play the piano well unless I take lessons. I am not free to surf without practice. You can add to the long list. Also, various character traits typically require certain practices and experiences. The human relationships that I might enjoy are not available to me if I am shallow because I have not experienced enough adversity to develop character traits like perseverance, courage and faithfulness.
Can we live in joyful freedom even when we face outward constraints? Followers of Jesus can. Jesus said, “The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:35-36, NRSV) Jesus is referring to serving God with a slave’s attitude, like the Pharisees, versus serving the Father as a child of God, as family. But there are other kinds of slavery. There is slavery to idols, which are anything that takes the place of the living God in our lives, or just surrendering to what our cultures say is just “the way things are” (the “elemental spirits” or “rudiments”, Gal. 4:9). There is that issue of idols again.
St. Paul speaks to the Galatians about freedom from idols: “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods. Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits? How can you want to be enslaved to them again?” (Gal. 4:8-9, NRSV) The inner freedom of a child of God can slip away when we try to earn God’s favor through rule keeping (we already have his favor) or when some ideology or person or thing takes the place of God in our lives. I am thinking of that chorus that I heard Jesus Culture perform a couple of years ago, “Break Every Chain”: “There is power in the name of Jesus, to break every chain, break every chain, break every chain…” I may appear to be tied down, but I’m dancing in my heart!
The precious gift of true inner freedom must not be compromised. St. Paul again: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal. 5:1, NRSV) The Psalmist is thankful to God: “You gave me a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip.” (Ps. 18:36, NRSV) I am going to live like someone left the gate open!