Freedom

Our church often puts some quotations in the bulletin. Yesterday, though the sermon was on one of the Psalms, there were some quotations about freedom from Chesterton, Lewis, and I think some others.

It seems to me there are generally two thoughts about freedom. One is that freedom is having no boundaries, no constraints, no restrictions, and no consequences. The other (usually heard from conservative Christians) is that freedom implies law, and involves being enabled to do the right thing.

The first seems obviously true to me. At least, having no boundaries, constraints, or restrictions. Freedom does seem to mean being able to do whatever you want, whenever you want to. On the other hand, it seems unreasonable to deny consequences. At least natural consequences: if you want to bang your head against a wall, you have to accept that you’re going to hurt it.

The other definition seems a little odd, especially the part about freedom implying law. I don’t think the definition of freedom includes law or consequences at all. On the other hand, I think it’s fairly obvious that we need law and consequences to put proper limits on our freedom. (I’m using the term “law” loosely; this includes the kind of laws that Congress writes, but also think of general ethical principles, a moral law, directives from God, your conscience, and that sort of thing.)

We generally agree that no one should have the freedom to murder anyone without consequences. We agree that society should provide the consequences — in other words, the consequences are artificial, and they involve acts of judgment and punishment. (Of course some folks argue that murderers shouldn’t be punished, but rehabilitated; while I agree that we should do everything we can to help heal one another of our hurts, including hurts that influence our bad choices, there should also be punishment for wrongdoing. We are certainly influenced by our pasts, but at all times we also have some power and responsibility for our choices.)

We often balk, though, at the idea of God decreeing consequences for wrong choices. Christianity isn’t about free will, folks say, because God approves of only one choice (to worship him), and punishes anyone who chooses something else. That’s not freedom, we say.

Some Christians argue that hell is not an artificial consequence, a judgment, or a punishment, but a natural consequence — people who choose life without God get exactly that in hell. This is a nice-sounding argument, but I’m not sure I see it in the Bible. It sure looks like God created hell and sends people there as a punishment.

It seems incongruous to us that God, who is all-powerful and all-loving, and who has demonstrated his great mercy by sending Jesus to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins and to reconcile us to himself, would not simply have mercy on everyone. Arminians can get around this by emphasizing human free will vs. God’s sovereignty; people choose to come to God, and not everyone makes that choice, and God won’t force himself on anyone. Calvinists, though, say that God chooses us, and that we only come to him when he intervenes to give us faith. If that’s true, why would God not choose everyone? Or how could God hold anyone responsible for not making a choice if the only way they can make that choice is by his intervention?

Please note; I’m not arguing that God should accept people into heaven who reject him. I’m just wondering, if faith requires God’s intervention, why he doesn’t intervene to bring everyone to faith?

What about the part of that second definition that says freedom involves being enabled to do the right thing? If freedom is license to do anything at all, then part of that freedom should be freedom from sin. In Christ, I’ve been freed from the consequences of sin (eternal death), and in this life, through sanctification, I am being made more and more free to be more like Christ, to not sin, to not fall into temptation, to not be bound by my flaws and character weaknesses, to love my husband well, to do my work with integrity, to be kind to my neighbor, and so on.

Of course, there’s still the other part of that freedom; I’m still free to sin, to act according to my weaknesses, to disrespect others, and so on.

Having freedom does not mean I should use all of it.

Having freedom does not mean escaping natural or Godly or societal consequences.

Check out the book of Galatians for some good stuff about freedom and law.

Lord, teach me to see where freedom and law intersect; teach me to abandon my freedom to break law; teach me to love you and your righteousness and use my freedom in Christ to pursue them.

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