I’m writing this on July 4, Independence Day in the USA. A day that’s all about freedom. That intangible, inalienable ‘right’ highly valued in our national rhetoric.
When I was teaching theology I couldn’t help noticing how many seminarians defined Christian freedom as free will. The kind that makes choices—yes or no. I’ve even had some say with fervor, ‘You can take away my house, and even my life, but don’t you dare try to take away my free will!’
I understand what they want to protect—their own freedom of choice, as a kind of inalienable right. Something God gave them that needs to be protected at all costs. The freedom to choose right or wrong, this church or that church, to believe and live this way or that way.
The ability for human beings to makes choices of any kind comes from our Creator. Here’s where I feel uneasy, though. Do we understand the meaning of Christian freedom?
Even if I’m speaking of generic freedom, I’m not free to choose just anything. If I think I am, I’m overlooking most of my history.
- I didn’t choose to be born in this country.
- I didn’t choose my gender, my race, my parents, the color of my hair or my eyes, my sisters or my extended families.
- Nor did I choose the way I was received into this world.
- Or the genes I carry that shape the kind of person I am and the illnesses I might one day suffer.
In fact, I didn’t get to choose much of anything about me when I entered this world.
On the other hand, I don’t believe that everything about me and the course of my life has already been chosen by a higher power or by some shadowy political system.
My decisions count, though not every decision is equally weighty. For example, what I wear today isn’t nearly as life-changing as choosing to marry this person instead of that person.
I can, in fact, choose to live in what I’d call false or make-believe freedom—as though I were God. Or the Queen of the Universe. But I am neither of these, and acting as though I were wouldn’t make it so.
My freedom as a Christian is about one thing.
It’s about freedom to choose life as defined by the Holy One
who created life and chose Jesus Christ (not me)
to be the person who shows us what a free and faithful life looks like.
God doesn’t force this choice on me. Yet for me as a follower of Jesus, it’s the only truly free choice. Anything else would be giving allegiance to some other god such as myself, or some other human being or system of thought.
It’s all in the way I frame my life and my choices. I’ve chosen to frame my life and my choices with reference to the narrative that runs through Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to negotiate relationships or the moral and ethical dilemmas that face us daily.
It does, however, mean that I’m committed to being guided by (1) the life of Jesus Christ who shows us what freedom looks like, and (2) by the reality that I serve but one God—my Creator, Redeemer, and Sustaining Spirit.
It also means I’m free in any situation to be who I am—one of God’s beloved daughters and sons. Nothing more and nothing less.
For example, I’m free to serve God with all my heart, free to follow Jesus, free to love my neighbor as myself, and free to choose growth. I’m also free to return home to God as often as needed—as the prodigal daughter I am, or as the self-righteous stay-at-home daughter I also recognize in myself from time to time.
Finally, I’m free to say No to others who demand my allegiance, or pretend to be my King or Queen for a day or a lifetime. In the end, saying No might well mean my death–as it did for Jesus Christ and for many of his followers.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 July 2015
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