According to Google, the first definition of freedom is “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.” Of course, that is only one definition of freedom but it is the operative understanding of freedom in Western democratic societies. In his book God, Freedom, & Human Dignity, Ron Highfield explores the ways this sense of freedom is expressed, showing how such freedom depends completely upon human effort (pp. 91-96). Such freedom is obtained and preserved by the political means of economic, military, and technological initiatives. Or so Western people think this is what makes them free!
What this concept of freedom requires is the removal of every obstacle that is believed to stand in the way of such freedom. Every obstacle that is… including God! In the Western sense of freedom, God is ultimately viewed as an obstacle to freedom and a great illustration of this is the way that Western democratic societies view sexuality. Whereas God is viewed as restricting our sexual liberty, we believe, in our Western sense of freedom, that we should be able to have sex whenever and with whomever we choose so long as our “partner(s)” is a willing participant too (their freedom of choice). Thus, if it is God that stands as an obstacle to this sexual liberty then it is God that must go. How ironic it is that conservative Americans who want to conserve traditional American values, including the Western notion of freedom, also lament the “removal of God” from American culture. It’s ironic because the very notion of freedom that conservatives (as well as liberals) want to preserve ultimately requires the removal of God in order to chase dream of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” — as we become our own gods.
“…We’re like a prisoner escaped from jail.”
The sad reality is that Western society is far from knowing freedom as it is actually enslaved to its own spiritual blindness. Because the democratic sense of freedom is one that is obtained and preserved completely through human effort, it is a dream of freedom that is never fully achieved. This freedom is an illusion and it’s much like a rainbow with the illusion beautiful enough for us to keep chasing but always remaining just beyond the hill (whatever obstacle that may be). This democratic pursuit of freedom means that we’re like a prisoner escaped from jail. We may no longer be restricted by the confines of a jail cell but we must keep on the run, always looking over our shoulders, remaining in hiding as we keep fighting without any peace or rest. What a pity! Especially since the price of this illusion has been a lot of bodies piled up on the battle field in order for us to try reach the pot of gold at the end of that rainbow.
But as I said earlier, the Western idea of freedom isn’t the only idea of freedom. Another idea is to remember that our lives have been created by the living God, who sustains our lives with every breath of air. Apart from him, we slowly die. In fact, we have been slowly dying since the original sin in which the man and woman attempted to become like God rather than to live dependent upon God (cf. Gen 3:4-5). Because God is the source of life, creating and sustaining all life (a notion that goes against the deistic philosophy that Western societies have built upon), we find true life, liberty, and happiness in God. But how… “If [we] insist on being the absolute cause of [our] existence, desires and actions, how can [we] acknowledge that [we] are God’s creature[s], preserved by his power, obligated by his law and in need of his grace?” (Highfield, p. 95).
“…we find true life, liberty, and happiness in God.”
The story of good news told in the Gospel of John begins by declaring to us that God is the Word who has become flesh in the person of Jesus, the Son of God. It is in Jesus, the Incarnate Word that we find life by believing in him (cf. Jn 1:1-4; 20:30-31). Because we find life in Jesus, who teaches us how to live again, we find the life, liberty, and happiness we were created to enjoy. It’s not a freedom in which we are able to live however we want, as though we are able to live apart from God and his will. Rather, it’s the freedom to be the people we were always created to be, living a life sustained by God and his will revealed to us in Jesus.
Consequently, the freedom we have in Jesus, the Incarnate Word, is able to fully satisfy our longing for happiness, joy, and peace because we are no longer trying to achieve what is impossible for us. Drinking from the living water that Jesus gives (cf. Jn 4:10, 13-14) frees us from futile need of having to secure freedom on our own and at the expense of people who are either in the way or become an expendable means to maintain the pursuit.
The good news about this divine freedom, is that it isn’t something we have to work for or fight for in any sense of the notion. Divine freedom is the gift of grace given to us from “God who so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (Jn 3:16, NRSV). It’s the gift of grace given to us by God the Father who raised his Son Jesus from death and then sent the Spirit as a promise of this eternal life. And that’s the truth that sets us free!
“Divine freedom is the gift of grace…”
So yes, freedom isn’t free. It costs more than we will ever truly imagine. It cost the life of Jesus who died in agony upon the cross so that we could be reconciled with God and live eternally again. Some people, however, will object with their “but…” as they insist we must chase the ever illusive idea of Western freedom if we are to be free. Sadly, some of these people are Christians, but what they don’t realize is that their self-pursuit of Western freedom isn’t free either. It’s an expensive cost too and it’s not just the cost of soldiers serving and dying in wars for “the cause of freedom.” Those who persist in persist in pursuing their own sense of freedom will pay the price of their own lives as they live enslaved to that illusive dream… working and fighting for a dream of freedom that never fully materializes as they hope it would.
That’s why I put my faith in Jesus Christ and why I encourage you to do so as well!
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – Jesus Christ (John 8:32)