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Are you really free, and do you really want to be? Pt 1.


We live in a society that values freedom immensely. Perhaps even above all else. Having recently commemorated another anniversary of armistice day on the 11th November, we are reminded that freedom is one of the very few things people will actually be willing to die for. So precious is our freedom to us, that we go to great lengths each year to remind ourselves not to take it for granted and to remember those who gave up theirs, for ours.

And it's true, isn't it? To be free is a symbol of human dignity, of value and worth. Freedom is integral to how we perceive our identities, and to know we are free is an essential component of being confident in our self worth. The freedom I'm talking about is, of course, the freedom to choose and to determine, to a large extent, our own destinies.

Think back to your school history lessons when you learned about the slave trade. It's seen as one of the greatest injustices in recorded history, that one man would enslave another, particularly the way in which so many African men and women were. The slave trade is abhorrent to us. And it's the lack of freedom to choose, in particular, that I think we find so distressing and threatening. Even if we make our own mistakes, and suffer consequences because of them, we'd often rather be in a less desirable situation if it means our self-determination and autonomy is left intact, than being confined to someone else's will and direction over us, without being able to do anything about it. I've also known friends to be resentful of parents, that they were not able to study the subjects they would have prefered to at university. We like to be in complete control of our own lives, answerable to ourselves only. Being free even to make our own mistakes is more preferable to us than having someone else rule over us.

To not be free, to be a slave to someone or something, be it a brutal master, alcohol or drugs, even too much food, is something to be overcome. And we pursue many liberation techniques in the name of freedom, such as lectures to parliament (Wilberforce against the slave trade), alcoholics anonymous, and weight watchers. We are in a society that loves to free the captives from their various enslavements. And how wonderful that is.

But is freedom all it's cracked up to be? Just because we know that freedom for a slave in the 18th C is good and right, doesn't necessarily mean we need liberating from everything that binds us in some way, or restricts us into a particular way of living.

Think about it. In a general sense, we are not really free at all. In fact, simply by virtue of having been created by a creator, we can reason that our very existence is founded on the premise of not being free - no mere mortal whoever lived ever had the freedom to choose if they were born or not. And this principle of not being totally free runs through space and time, into the very fibres of our being. Everything from our biological heritage to our health, our upbringings and our educations (or lack thereof), all feed into defining us as individuals, constraining our identities, and restricting the possibilities of who we can become and what we are able to achieve. To continue the train of thought, I can observe that I'm not free to do certain things. I'm unable to breathe underwater for example. I don't have gills, and as soon as I start to try, my lungs will fill up with water and I will drown. Sure, in one sense, I'm free to choose to do that, but I'm not free to carry it out. Of course, I do have choice, but my choice is always restricted in some way, and I have to conclude that I'm not a fully free person. Not even my desires are truly free. There are some things I might desire to do but am unable to ever achieve them. There are some things, I'm sure, that are even beyond my comprehension, which means that if I don't know it's a possibility, I'm unable to desire to do it. Even my free choices that I carry out aren't fully free. I could quite easily get up and drive to the shop for some ice cream, but even then I'm limited by time. I'm potentially limited by the stock levels of ice cream in the shop. And even if they do have ice cream, it might be banana flavour and there's no way I'm eating that. Even if the shop has chocolate ice cream, it might only have chocolate ice cream. My choice is still limited and my desire also, because I was really in the mood for mint. Oh sure, I might not mind that I'm bound by time. But I'm still bound by it. If we think in these ways, we come to the conclusion that we are not truly free at all. Every choice we make is pre-constrained by the boundaries of the created order. Freedom in one area of life necessarily requires lack of freedom in another.

And so the next thing we need to ask ourselves is, is that such a bad thing? Do we really want to be free? There are so many regulatory principles at work in the world that keep it ticking along as it should be and making our existences possible and enjoyable. Gravity, for instance, restricts our movement. If gravity didn't work so restrictively, perhaps we'd accidentally jump too high and end up floating off into the atmosphere, either freezing or suffocating on the way up into space. But we're not free to jump that high, and the human race functions pretty well because of that. And there are many other rules and regulations and boundaries we employ that actually promote freedom. Think back to the alcoholic. For him to be free from addiction and the consequences of that, he must deny himself the freedom to drink. Or think of speed limits on the road, that restrict me from using my own bad judgement and driving too fast. They protect others from that danger also. One last car example - that great modern day symbol of freedom. Yet, if you fill it with the wrong kind of fuel, you're not going to get very far in it. The right restrictions enable true freedom.

I understand that I've just described a bit of a paradox - a world in which we are both free and not free. But I do believe the brief statements above are accurate, and these ideas, I hope, will be valuable in helping to explain how Christians, in particular, should understand the Biblical ideas such as predestination and election.

And so, to end, it's worth considering what true freedom for the Christian looks like. And I think it encompasses the ideas mentioned above. Romans 6:22, in particular, is helpful here. It describes the Christian as free from sin, but now a slave to God. Having been set free from sin, necessarily means Christians were once enslaved to it. And so to be free from the bondage of sin, we must become in bondage to God. In order for the alcoholic to be free from addiction, he must become in bondage to abstinence. To be a slave to God according to the Bible is to seek to let God and his authority over us govern us completely. It means we seek to follow God's direct instruction where possible and to follow general Biblical principles of how we are to live otherwise. We are to battle against the flesh and it's remaining sinful desires, and to yield to the Holy Spirit, prayerfully asking Him to influence us towards living in a way more pleasing to God. We do this knowing that God's laws are good laws that prosper us as individuals and as a society in general. Christians are not to seek to be free people, but to be slaves to God. Because in being a slave to God, we are most free. As the hymn goes "Whom the Son sets free, Oh is free indeed!"

There are a few things here still left to unpack in the next post, and a few more issues to pick up on. But hopefully this brief overview of freedom will set a precedent for the following article.



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