Monday, July 4, 2016

Is It Time to Reconsider ‘Freedom’?

Who doesn’t like “free,” right? Maybe a free item when you purchase one like it – buy one, get one free. Maybe a free stay at some resort hotel, the only caveat being that you endure a very persuasive sales presentation. Or maybe a free lunch, free education, or free health insurance. There’s a lot to like about “free.”

So it’s appropriate on this Independence Day to pause and consider what the whole notion of “freedom” is all about. We’re celebrating the virtues of equality, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and other “unalienable Rights.” The Constitution’s Bill of Rights consists of amendments written to protect many of these rights, including freedom of religious expression, free speech, freedom of the press, freedom to bear arms, and others.

These days, however, it seems the very concepts of freedom and liberty are under attack, being redefined by political and social agendas. The Constitution itself has come under fire by segments of society set on reshaping its meaning to accomplish their ends.

What does it truly mean to be “free”? When talking about liberty and freedom, how are we to understand these terms? What are the parameters, limits and boundaries within which we must exercise our freedoms? Is it time to reconsider, to revisit these questions?

It would seem interpretation of these freedoms – separated from what the Declaration calls “their Creator” – is subject to the whims, wiles and winds of ever-changing social mores. Even how our revered Supreme Court defines them depends on its current liberal-conservative makeup. Rather than serving as a constant, a standard and guide for “We the People of the United States” in our quest “a more perfect Union” and to “insure domestic Tranquility,” our Constitution and what the Founding Fathers meant when they wrote it has become a moving target.

I’ve always appreciated a very simple definition of freedom as “being free to do as we ought, rather than doing whatever we want.” The freedom to drive on the highway, for example, should also involve the constraint to drive at a reasonable speed, pay attention to what’s happening on the road, obey traffic signals, and show courtesy to other motorists.

The absolute authority on freedom, in my view, is what God has revealed in the Bible. It started in Genesis, when He told Adam and Eve, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden (of Eden), but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:16-17). From the get-go, God gave the first couple considerable latitude in their choices of food, with a single exception. But they decided that wasn’t enough freedom. They proceeded to exceed the limits of the freedom they had been given, and we’ve been pushing those boundaries ever since.

God gave the Ten Commandments to the Israelites, as well as all succeeding members of His eternal family, to instruct in how to have healthy, growing relationships with Him and everyone we meet from day to day. His intent wasn’t to be restrictive, but rather to provide a means for insuring what He might have termed “domestic tranquility.”

Commandments like “you shall not murder,” “you shall not steal,” “you shall not lie,” and “you shall not covet your neighbor’s possessions” (Exodus 20:1-17, Deuteronomy 5:6-21) don’t seem unduly harsh, do they? Especially in light of Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:33). However, many still find the commandments offensive. Especially ones that insist that we have no other gods before the one true God, should not worship idols, or “misuse the name of the Lord your God.” And for some, “do not commit adultery” is particularly problematic.

But without question, the Bible offers a plan for experiencing genuine freedom and liberty, a way to “be all that you can be,” as the U.S. Army marketing slogan used to promise years ago.

The apostle Paul wrote, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). What did he mean by “a yoke of slavery”? Paul explained that in another of his New Testament letters:
“Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life…. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life” (Romans 6:13-22).

In the gospel of John, Jesus made another clear assertion about freedom – freedom that’s not affected by changing philosophies and ideologies. He focused on freedom that can’t be redefined by government, society or political correctness when He declared, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:32-36). We can be free to be and to become everything God has called us to be.

So as we celebrate the freedoms we have enjoyed in this nation known as the United States, we ought also to be grateful for the freedom we can have in Christ that spans eternity, transcends traditions, and crosses all gender, racial, ethnic and cultural barriers.

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