Freedom is a precious, complex thing.
There are many kinds of freedom and each kind of freedom carries its own requirements.
There is political freedom, something we have just celebrated; the freedom to choose for ourselves who will represent us in governing our community, our state and our nation.
There is economic freedom, the capacity to work and earn, to work hard and earn more, to avail yourself of opportunity.
There is social freedom, the right to express yourself, the right to dress as you desire, to speak your opinion in the public arena.
We even have freedom of religion, so of course we also have freedom from religion.
We have all kinds of freedom, and we take for granted that we are free to choose for ourselves, to act as we please, think as we please. In fact we have come to define freedom as the ability to do what you want to do. If someone or something constrains your actions, we consider it an abrogation of our freedom.
But if freedom can be defined as doing what you want to do, and only as that, I wonder how long we can maintain any social contract that isn’t ultimately merely chaos and survival of the fittest – with “fittest” defined as whoever is stronger.
Then as a Christian, I read things such as the apostle Paul’s comment that, “It was for freedom that Christ set you free,” and I wonder how Paul defined freedom.
If Paul meant it the way we usually do, then Christian faith would be an easy sell: Hey, Jesus wants you to do whatever it is you want to do! Enjoy!
But I don’t think that is what Paul meant at all. Paul goes on to say, “You were called to freedom…only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh,” which sounds as if Paul thinks there is a freedom that exists only when we do not permit ourselves to be self-indulgent. Freedom that is not concerned with “doing what I want” as much as with choosing what is good…for me and for others.
We are free to choose whatever we wish, but how often do our choices damage others. The banks who knowingly packaged and sold mortgages that were worthless; the repair shop that charges for work never done; the contractor who skips out of the materials costs but collected the rent money; the driver who had one too many but knows he’s fine to drive; the meth addict breaking out car windows to grab a purse and run; the pregnant woman deciding to end a pregnancy; choices made, and you say, “but those are bad choices!” And I say, “Yes they are, but we are all free to make them.” And choosing what I want, pleasing myself gets priority over everything else pretty easily.
Self-indulgence is addictive. But what if we used our freedom to not make bad choices? What if there is a freedom that can only be found in choosing good over self-indulgence? Freedom that does not pretend to be only concerned with what I want, but is deeply committed to finding what is good and making that choice? “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; do not then submit again to a yoke of slavery.”