The Fourth of July holiday is over. There has been a lot of talk about freedom these past few days. Christians sometimes talk about freedom. Americans talk about freedom also. But they are not, I think, talking about the same thing. Freedom has different meanings based on context. And sometimes we fail to consider any distinction between types of freedom.
In terms of the United States, we tend to think of freedom as individual rights which are valued and protected by society. Free speech,the right to assemble,, the right to a speedy and fair trial, freedom of religion, etc. These are freedoms which belong to me as an individual, granted and protected by the state. These freedoms may be an inalienable right, but we recognize the governments role in safeguarding these rights. Sadly many of us tend to be self centered and more concerned about protecting our personal freedom rather than extending freedom to others.
Christians mean something different when we talk about freedom. This freedom is not so much freedom for me as it is freedom from me. Christians talk about freedom in terms of the surrender of one’s self to the one true God. (Other religions do also, but I’m not going to presume to speak for other faiths.) To modern minds, surrender and freedom don’t go together. At first glance freedom by surrendering one’s self to God seems paradoxical. But God seems to enjoy paradox. What Christians mean when we talk about freedom is freedom from the universal human conditions of fear and self loathing and small mindedness and the various types of meanness that humans are prone to.
John Calvin reminds us that without God, our hearts tend to curve inward on themselves. My inclination is to see everything in terms of me. How does this affect me? Am I happy? Am I comfortable? Am I respected? Am I…? Am I…? Am I? I am the center of my universe and I ought to be the center of your universe too.
Freedom in the Christian sense of the word, is freedom from myself- my wants, my needs, my desires, my fears, my worries, my clingy, clutching, grasping self. Freedom from wondering am I smart enough? Rich enough? Thin enough? Am I good enough? Will you like me? Will God like me?
Freedom for Christians is not so much an event as a process. That clingy, clutching, grasping self is hard to get rid of and it can come roaring back unexpectedly. But the process of curving my heart outward, opening my heart to you and to God and to the world gives me freedom. Freedom from my tiny world and freedom to participate in the big world where you and God are.
Christian freedom is not freedom from fear or sorrow or sadness or disease or suffering or death. Christian freedom, curving my heart outward, may actually take me into fear, sorrow, sadness, suffering or death. Christian freedom takes me from a false sense of security that I can control my life and allows me to be vulnerable and enter life trusting that I do not go anywhere alone. Freedom from myself allows me freedom to be with God. Freedom shifts my focus from me to God. And then from me to you.