Much of the world is talking about freedom. People in Iran are protesting and dying in a bid for freedom. Yet leaders in Iran are fighting for what they perceive as freedom from the evils of the West. In Gaza there are Palestinians fighting for freedom to be their own country while Israelis struggle to be free from terrorists. Here in the United States we are celebrating the 4th of July, the signing of The Declaration of Independence and the “birth of freedom” for our country. In all the talk and struggle over freedom I am forced to ask the question, is freedom always a good thing?
Sometimes it has to be admitted that freedom has it’s ugly side. Often the cry of freedom is little more than an excuse to impose my desires, values, and priorities on others no matter what that means for them. The parent who claims the freedom to pursue his own desires and not be encumbered by the responsibilities of parenting, leaving children to fend for themselves eventually resulting in destroyed lives, is an ugly aspect of freedom. The cry for freedom that expressed itself in Rwanda where thousands of Hutu and Tutsi killed one another in order to be free of each others presence and culture is about as ugly as it gets. Such a perversion of freedom can only be explained by the existence of evil that seeks to destroy that which good. C.S. Lewis said that “Badness is only spoiled goodness”.Freedom is a good thing that we so easily spoil and make not just bad, but ugly and perverted.
The Apostle Paul faced the ugly side of freedom in the first century church in Corinth. There was a man in the church who was sleeping with his father’s wife. He was claiming that because of faith in Christ we are no longer under the law and have freedom. Some in the church seemed to accept that logic, we are free in Christ. Paul chastises the man and the church saying that even among the pagans they understand that sleeping with your father’s wife is icky. (I can’t think of a better word for it). The freedom Christ gives is a good thing that was turned ugly in Corinth.
There is another aspect of freedom that manifests itself in the desire for complete autonomy that is so prevalent in our day. In children it rears its head when in the midst of an argument one child cries out to another, “You’re not the boss of me”. On an adult level it shows up when we claim our right to do whatever we want, whenever we want. It is much like the situation in the Bible in Judges 17:6 “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes“. For many today that would seem like a modern day utopia, nobody telling you what to do, no one to “be the boss of you”, everyone having the freedom to do what they think is right. But what the Book of Judges is saying is that such a situation actually led to anarchy and things where about as bad as they could get. The fact that people had no earthly king to follow was symptomatic of them not wanting to follow a heavenly king either.
Our desire for freedom can very easily cross the line into doing whatever is right in our own eyes, with no consideration for what is right in God’s eyes. That was at least in part the lesson of Adam and Eve. The temptation was that they could also be gods. They could be the gods of their own lives and not be bound or obligated to listen to the Lord God. They wanted a kind of freedom from God that seemed to be very good. It was obviously very tempting. It turned out to be very bad. Freedom does not mean the ability to do whatever you want, when ever you want, no matter the consequences. Freedom is not an absence of rules. Unfortunately there are many who think it is. Psychologist Erich Fromm said “Human history begins with man’s act of disobedience which is at the very same time the beginning of his freedom and development of his reason”. Somewhere along the way we have built a society that so misunderstands freedom that we have turned it into the most selfish of motives. We think we are advancing ourselves by having the freedom to do whatever we want. We think that the first step to freedom is telling God where to get off. We think that makes us free. Yet, we find ourselves actually trapped in a bondage of our own making. It is impossible to argue that the world is better off since what Fromm calls, “man’s act of disobedience”.
Then there is the good side of freedom. Many think that the good side of freedom is found in things like freedom of speech, religion, assembly and the rest of those things in the American Bill of Rights. Those are certainly good freedoms and I would not want to be without them. But there is an even higher freedom that the Bible speaks of. It is the freedom to love and serve God and our neighbor. Paul puts it this way in his letter to the Galatians chapter 5, “ 13For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” We have the freedom in Christ to serve others, to defer to them, to place them before ourselves. That is a far cry from the freedom that the world pushes saying we must take care of ourselves first. It is the same kind of freedom that Jesus demonstrated by freely submitting to the Cross on our behalf. I have the freedom in Christ to put my own desires and wants on the back burner and place those of my neighbor to the front. There is something incredibly freeing in that. No longer am I in bondage to my own desires and seeing them fulfilled. No longer must I be obsessed with me rights and freedoms and the endless pursuit of them. Instead I am released from those things and find fulfillment in the blessing of others. That is one aspect of the very good freedom we have in Christ, the freedom to put others first.