Much will be made this week around the theme of “freedom.” It would be difficult to imagine any American, or any person from any country for that matter, who is not “for freedom.” Can you imagine anyone saying, “No, actually I prefer bondage?” However, it is true that some folks in this country are not really free. There still exists some bondage in race terms, in gender terms, in economic terms, and even others.
Yet over this week, stories will abound about independence. Probably we will hear again that the British were unfair to our forbearers in the 18th century and so Americans did what Americans always will do: fight! I have been in Independence Hall in Philadelphia more than once. It is an impressive building and the history of the place is almost palpable. It is easy for my mind to try to imagine those days of drama as those guys discussed why and how the American colonies needed to move forward independently from the British. Truly, the Constitution is a wonderfully amazing document which has served us well for over two hundred years.
One can do no better than cite Lincoln’s eloquence when he describes this country as a “new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” All citizens in this country are free. At one level that is true. Politically, we are all free to do what we want within the bounds of legality. But once we say this, we realize freedom is a more complicated concept than it seems on the surface. For example, we just acknowledged there are some boundaries to our freedom when we said we are free to do what we want as long as it is legal.
Of course, you and I are free to do things that are illegal. Drug dealers do this daily! But to do illegal things puts us in jeopardy. If we are caught, that is the end of freedom. If we are jailed, we may still have some freedoms, but walking out of the jail is not one of those freedoms. Captivity has replaced freedom. And no one really cares how we feel about it!
As a corollary to political and individual freedom, let’s consider the spiritual freedom about which Jesus speaks. Spiritual freedom necessarily takes into account that we now are no longer just talking about us. God also is now in the picture. In fact, spiritual folks probably would go so far as to say it is God’s picture and we are in the picture---individually and as a group. In this interpretation Americans are nothing more than one group in a much larger group in God’s picture of the world.
A second thing that is in the picture (since God is now in the mix) is God’s desire (often referred to as God’s will). This is a huge addition to the freedom equation. Now there are two wills: God’s will and my own individual will (and even a third if we add the community’s will). Of course, I can still understand freedom as the freedom to do whatever I want. In spiritual terms, this kind of individual freedom to do what I want inevitably leads to sin: doing what I want instead of what God wants.
This leads to the crux of spiritual freedom. It is paradoxical. Spiritual freedom says I want to do what God wants me to do. Obedience is a deeper form of freedom than my individual desires. Obedience is not bondage because I am willing God’s will for me. The spiritual person is the most radically free person.
It is radical freedom because there is no impulse to selfishness, no protectionist tendency, no manipulative motivation. Lord, make me this free!