The meaning of freedom

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The celebration of our freedom as a nation is next week. Freedom is an important value in our culture and politics. How often, though, do we pause to think about what it really is?

The holiday directs our attention to the most obvious sense of the word: the absence of external coercion. Freedom here means no one is telling me what to do or making me do it. We realize we cannot have complete freedom in this sense while living in a community with others, but we like to get as close as we can.

We can, however, be externally free and yet suffer from a lack of freedom internally. An epidemic of opioid addiction has been in the news. Addiction is a state where a person feels constrained by something on the inside. In some sense, one does what one does not want to do. All of us can relate to this, even if we have not been addicted to drugs. Maybe we compulsively react in anger when we don’t want to, or can’t seem to stop spending money we don’t have. Internally, freedom means an undivided self: what we want to do, we can do, and what we don’t want to do, we can stop.

Yet even if a person has this kind of internal freedom, we might hesitate to call him free if he is living under some kind of illusion. Perhaps many a Nazi was free in the sense just described: devoted to the ideals of the party and able to live up to them without internal conflict. But we think such individuals were in bondage to a false picture of reality that had captured their imagination.

While we rightly value freedom of the first kind, the latter two are arguably much more important. Attaining the first is the business of armies and governments. How do we attain the others?

Jesus said the truth is what brings freedom. (John 8:32) This is obvious in the last kind of freedom discussed. The antidote to living under an illusion is living in the truth. But this just raises the question, “What is the truth?” Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) He came to disclose the way things really are and invites us to leave illusion and grasp the truth.

What about the second kind of freedom, the undivided self? The divided self knows the good but is unable to live it. As Paul describes it, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15) Jesus came to set us free, healing the division and giving us a new heart empowered to do what is good.

If you want the freedom of truth and the freedom of an undivided self, they are found in Jesus. If you want to understand how to enter into them, feel free to get in touch.

By |June 30th, 2017|

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