1620: People flee to our shores to escape the religious persecutions in Europe.
1775: Their descendants fight to free themselves from the economic oppression of England.
1865: The Civil War is won to free the slaves.
1920: Women achieve the freedom to vote.
1964: The Civil Rights Act begins defending the freedoms of African Americans from discrimination.
Imperfectly implemented and often tragically late in arriving, nevertheless, the freedom for which our country is known is a rare thing in world history and has often inspired (and sometimes pressured) other nations to follow suit. Consider, for instance, both that monumental “thumbs up” from France that stands in New York’s harbor and, at another end of the spectrum, the fact that Saudi Arabia finally granted women the right to vote only seven months ago.
There is something beautiful here in the U.S. Yet allow me to say something which will seem stupidly obvious until the implications sink in: everything that has happened here in the name of freedom is external. Merely external. For all the real good that has come in this external fight for freedom, we nevertheless need to recognize its limitations: external freedoms cannot free a person inwardly.
We’re in the process missing that important truth. Now we’re attempting to end the tensions of inner bondage, compulsions, drives – whatever you wish to call them – by exercising new outward freedoms. And yes, the best country for freedom in all the history of the world can deliver the tech to alter your reality, the drugs to alter your chemical state, the politics to alter your status and the laws to legalize your temptations, but these are all still external forces attempting to cure internal problems. You’ll probably feel differently for a time, but the broken inner mechanism is still there and it will simply make itself known in another way on another day. When that happens, will you patch it externally yet again?
There is such a thing as internal freedom, and it is ultimately far more valuable than external freedom. This is both why we so easily overlook and yet so much need to hear Jesus say: “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Look at what else he has to say about this in John 8:31-36 and following. There’s clearly more involved in gaining this freedom than just asking for it, but then again, it probably wouldn’t hurt to start there. As we get ready to celebrate our national external freedoms once more, make your move and take this thing to the next level (interior), if you haven’t already.
Steve Strombom is lead pastor at Enumclaw Nazarene Church.