America. United States. Economic juggernaut. Home of the free.
Recently I read a blog that was essentially arguing for small government. The main reason was that the author would rather be free than protected and taken care of by the government. This made me wonder: why is it that we put so much stock by our freedom? America is a free country. This statement is undoubtedly true. One need simply browse through the headlines to realize that oppression and strong, if not overly powerful, governments exist throughout the world. And we prize our unique situation, our freedom; we desperately hold onto it. In a time of economic struggle, we think, at least we can still say that we’re free. This concept of “free” gets thrown around so much I feel we now have little hold on what it means. Note what one of the characters in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest says to an American about this very issue:
Your freedom is the freedom-from…But what of the freedom-to? Not just free-from…How is there freedom to choose if one does not learn how to choose?
This points to a dangerous tendency we have: we consider our freedom-from and stop there. We are obsessed with freedom-from. But, Matt, you might say, we are free to worship, we are free to speak our minds, we are free-to… But what are these things if not distinctions under the prized freedom-from persecution? We are free to speak our minds but we do not know how to do so, hence we have so much unnecessary conflict in relationships due to communication breakdowns. We are free to worship but the vast majority of Americans do not know how to worship. Ultimately our freedom-from is meaningless because we cannot convert that to any sort of meaningful freedom-to. Where our culture likes to be comfortable in its “freedom” it fails to realize that it has not answered the vital question.
Let me make this statement: Christianity is beautiful. Non-sequitur? By no means. Because ultimately, the follower of Jesus answers the vital question. Where culture fails, Christianity steps in and answers. What do I do with this freedom-from? How do I convert it to a freedom-to? The words are found on Jesus’s lips as he calls all of us: “Follow me.” And that’s beautiful; not in the superficial way that we might look at a well-executed sports play but in a way that influences our soul, our very being.
Culturally, we are obsessed with freedom. Yet we stop at that. We love our freedom. Period. What we do with our freedom we do not discuss. Is it okay to love freedom? Absolutely. It’s a blessing to live in a country where we are free from many restrictions that our brothers and sisters in Christ face around the world. But when we stop at freedom-from and do not pursue the freedom-to we are missing out on what following Christ is all about. Paul, in Romans 6 approaches this very issue. He says that we have “died to sin,” however he refuses to let us simply bask in that freedom. In vv.12-14 he follows up with one of the first direct exhortations in the letter – let not sin reign but present yourselves to God. Paul understands that the freedom-from is insufficient. He points us to the freedom-to.
May we always be reminded that the blessing to be free-from brings with it the responsibility of discovering what we are free-to, a freedom that is found in its completeness in Christ.
Grace and peace,