What is Freedom?

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the concept of Christian freedom. What exactly is […]

Sean Norris / 8.6.10

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the concept of Christian freedom. What exactly is it? How come most of the time I don’t feel free even though I’ve been a Christian for a while now? Is there a way to connect more with the freedom that was promised us?

If you are like me, then there is a specific area (or maybe more than one;)) in which you are aware of your lack of freedom more acutely than other areas in your life. For me it is in the area of anxiety. I have “struggled,” which means I have been overwhelmed, with an overly anxious mind. I worry, and I worry a lot. Most people that I know are surprised to hear this since I have a pretty relaxed demeanor most of the time. They tell me things like, “You seem so laid back.” My response is always that the facade is working then. On an internal level I am anything but relaxed most of the time. I am busy thinking through all that’s going on in my life and wondering about what’s going to happen next. SO, if there is an area in my life where I wish I felt free it is with my anxiety.

But what do I even mean by freedom? What do I wish I felt? A lot of the time it seems that we like to think of freedom as having the ability to do whatever we want, to be the master of our own domain, to be in charge. At least that’s what I’ve often found myself thinking. And, it’s what we are often accused of saying in Mockingbird. BUT, how is that freedom? That’s precisely the kind of thinking that leads to my anxiety. Maybe you’ve thought this way too: It’s up to me. I’ve gotta figure this out somehow. I need to get control of my situation, or something to that effect. I get tense even thinking about it. Doing whatever I want can’t equate freedom because most of the time I am very confused over what I want.

SO, what the heck is freedom then?

Well, maybe it’s the exact opposite of being able to do anything. Maybe it’s being completely out of control. Maybe it’s not trying to rule your own existence or constantly trying to cling to possession of your life. Maybe it’s being free to actually want something that’s true and good for you.

One of the best stories I’ve ever heard to illustrate Christian freedom is told by Mockingbird friend and recent conference speaker, Bishop FitzSimons Allison. In the wake of Hurricane Hugo he rushed to the Diocesan office to ensure the church records weren’t destroyed. He went into the supply closet to check on them. The door swung shut behind him. In the pitch black he went to push the door open, but it wouldn’t budge. There he was stuck in the supply closet in an empty office in a town devastated by the hurricane with nobody there to help him and no cell phone. SO, he decided to try to force the door open otherwise he’d be in there all night. He didn’t have any other options. So he was throwing his shoulder against the door, kicking it, pounding on it, but the thing wouldn’t budge. Then, exhausted, he gave up and rested against the door and his hand brushed over the hinges of the door, which were on the inside! He couldn’t believe it. He grabbed the handle and pulled instead of pushed and the door opened easily.

In his amazing disarming manner, Bp. Allison sums up saying that it wasn’t until his will was brought into line with the truth (the door opens in) that he was able to be free. The image of him pounding against the door, convinced he knew the way out is a picture of all of us trapped by our own ignorance, held prisoner by our own sinful stubbornness of depending on ourselves. It is a picture of us in control. It wasn’t until he gave up trying that he connected with the truth and he walked out. It’s the same with us. It’s not until we reach the end of ourselves, of our ability, that we find freedom. In other words (the words of the theology of the cross), it’s not until we die to our ability to free ourselves that we finally discover freedom. We are met at our end with the truth that Jesus has left nothing up to us. We don’t have to figure anything out. He has met every standard, he has fulfilled every demand, he has accomplished everything so that we might truly be out of control.

SO, what is Christian freedom then? It is not something that we can engineer. Rather, it is something that happens to us. It is being brought into line with the truth that we are not free and cannot free ourselves. It is being brought to our end and finding ourselves with no more options and giving up. At that moment, we are finally free to depend on Someone outside of ourselves, and we are met by Jesus there. As Mockingbird contributor John Zahl once said, “God’s office is at the end of our ropes.”

P.S. While this Braveheart clip may not be a perfect illustration of what I’m saying, it does show death before freedom, and it still gives me chills every time I watch it;)