Mel Gibson has portrayed many characters, but perhaps none so palatable to the American psyche as William Wallace in Braveheart. In his final scene, despite the pain and life-ebbing garrotting, Gibson manages to make the hills resound with his cry for "F-R-E-E-D-O-M!"
What is Freedom?
Freedom, it seems, is an inescapable goal for mankind, yet history is replete with mankind's failure to achieve it. A major part of this problem is the definition of freedom itself. What, then, is freedom?
For many, freedom is the equivalent of personal liberty; that is, it is the epitome of the ideal that every man is free to do whatever he likes. This definition is the one that is offered in the current cultural climate around the world. Embodied in the idea of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, freedom is seen as a climate where we can do whatever we like. Period.
In previous times, this kind of arrangement would have been considered anarchy. No rules, everyone does whatever it is he likes to do without any restraint whatsoever. The only problem with this kind of freedom is that it exists only in the minds of men who themselves are not really committed to freedom in this sense. And there's a good reason for this. This definition of freedom is an impossibility. There can be no freedom of this kind because the definition requires that everyone else conform to this definition of freedom, and this, in the long run, is the very opposite of the freedom espoused.
No matter how hard we may try to come up with a definition of freedom allowing people to do whatever they like, we run into a brick wall. If person A does not like person B's actions and wants to restrain person B in some form, this means there is no freedom in this sense for person B. Stalemate.
Yet we all seem to desire such a freedom as this one. And that is probably because we are still carrying with us Eve's mistaken belief that we can be our own god, defining for ourselves right and wrong, good and evil (Gen. 3:5). This, after all is said and done, is our basic psychology, and only in redeemed people is there some kind of commitment to reverse this process and allow God to be arbiter of what is good.
The kind of freedom dreamed by men and women did not exist even before the Fall. God put Adam and Eve in the Garden, but placed a limit on what they could do. That both Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit is evidence of the strong attraction that the idea of being their own god had for them. This is an attraction that has not gone away for us and is a major struggle for all people.
Not only as individuals, but also as people in community, we struggle with freedom. While many recognize the impossibility of an unbridled individual freedom, we seek a politically imposed definition of freedom. Our governments cannot impose freedom. If freedom is exemption from arbitrary control, then our governments offer anything but this kind of freedom. The events of 9/11 have made sure of this, with increased powers to government agencies in the so-called war against terrorism. Taxation levels also evidence that we are far from having a climate that is exempt from arbitrary control.
Let the Bible Define.
If, on the other hand, we are to take the Bible as our source for the concept of freedom, then we find that this idea of freedom does not exist in our world today. For example, Proverbs 22:7 clearly indicates that debt is a form of slavery. If we accept this as true, then we must admit that our current debt levels put us into slavery in a very deep way. We have little chance of getting out of this kind of slavery without paying a difficult economic price, a price that many may not be willing to pay voluntarily.
The Bible identifies lack of freedom as a state of slavery to sin. This, in the long run, is why we find freedom an impossible achievement. We think we can vote freedom into existence, or expect that we can at least influence political decision-making to an extent that will create freedom, but all attempts have failed.
They have failed because deep down our commitment is to the wrong kind of freedom. We want our sin and our freedom at the same time, but we cannot have both. Something has to give.
Our attempts at freedom will also continue to fail while we remain slaves to some incorrect notions. These include, but are not limited to: First, the idea that the political order can create freedom for us while it operates on the mistaken notion that the political order defines what is good and evil. This makes the state god and makes the state's supporters idolaters. Second, that freedom is only defined as freedom from political control. This misses the point that the opposite of freedom, slavery, is inherent in economic conditions as well. And while we may not accept political slavery so easily, we are certainly ready to welcome with open arms debt slavery in the belief that other people's money is the new way to wealth for all.
Romans 8:21 makes it very clear that until the problem of sin is resolved, we cannot be delivered in the "glorious liberty of the children of God." If we want to know why we have not found freedom, it is because we have not dealt with the problem of sin in our lives. As the Bible reminds us, sin is disobeying the law of God (1 John 3:4).
Freedom, the kind promised in the Bible, will remain elusive until we rediscover the law of God and purge sin (disobedience) from our lives. This is the first and only step in the quest for freedom. The only real freedom is that which allows us to discover and implement God's requirements in our lives.
- Ian Hodge
Ian Hodge, Ph.D. (1947–2016) was a long-term supporter of Chalcedon and an occasional contributor to Faith for All of Life. He was also a business consultant in Australia, USA, Canada, and New Zealand, and a prominent piano teacher in Australia.