How free is it? And who pays?

by Elouise

This morning I set out to respond to a post by my Australian blogging friend, John–at his invitation. I had no idea it would be this long. So, please go read his post first. It’s called “Take it. It’s free.” You can find it here. Two great, brief stories. The text he mentions at the end is Romans 6:23.

Here’s my response to John.

Your second story hits a nerve because this is the reasoning my father, a clergyman, used when I confronted him about his behavior toward me as a child and young person.

His words were a bit different, but the bottom line was the same: I do all my business with God. God has already forgiven me of anything I might have done in the past. I don’t owe you an apology for anything.

There’s nothing in Romans 6:23 to justify this behavior or attitude. In fact, it’s interesting that so many of us often turn down a free offer from God. We say we want forgiveness from God. We want God to ‘liberate’ us (at no cost) from something. But we don’t want to change.

Freedom is connected to forgiveness and making amends. It’s freedom to do the right thing in relation to God and to our neighbors near and far—beginning with those closest to us. It isn’t freedom to just go on doing whatever we think we’re ‘free’ to do—because God has already forgiven me!

Freedom is both free and costly. Ask any alcoholic, child abuser, druggie, anyone who’s been abused and now has to make a life by learning to undo all kinds of self-defeating survival skills, anyone who’s suffered from depression. I don’t have to beg for freedom or pay for it. All I have to do is receive it. God offers it to me every day of my life.

Sound easy? Not really. Receiving forgiveness/freedom means changing. Whether it’s about something I’ve done, or something done to me. It means my life is going to change.

And yes, it’s costly. The kind of ‘cost’ I mean when I say all I owe God is gratitude. Not money and not even a long list of good deeds. God wants me, just as I am. But not to leave me just as I am.

This means I can, with God’s strength and the help of other human beings, begin addressing behaviors and attitudes in me that need to change. Not overnight, but one small step at a time, one day at a time. One mistake at a time. Making amends is part of that journey.

God alone understands from the inside out why and how I became the way I am, and what it costs to give up self-defeating survival skills that simply perpetuate the punishment from which I want to be free.

I once wrote a little saying and posted it on the door of my office when I was teaching theology at the seminary. This was back in the 1980s when liberation theology was all the rage.

Liberation is costly.
Even God can’t give it away.

It’s simple. There is a cost to liberation. God has already paid it. I can’t possibly afford it on my own. All I can do is accept this free gift and say ‘Thank you’ to God and to other human beings who help me attend to the issues I inherited, and too often passed on to others. Which costs me time, effort, honesty and humility.

Thanks, John! I didn’t know I had this much to say….


© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 July 2015